The Pollination Partnership
Butterflies, like beetles, ants, flies, bees, wasps and moths are the primary animal pollinators. Birds and bats are important pollinators too.
Flowers contain parts to entice pollinators and produce seeds. The petals are designed to provide platforms for roving pollinators. The base of many petals contain nectaries that produce the sweet treasure each pollinator is seeking.
The partnership between flowers and pollinators is incredibly important. They are completely dependent on one another for survival.
Did you know that other beneficial insects like ladybugs don't just pollinate by moving from one flower to another, but they also eat pollen in addition to about 5,000 aphids in their lifetime?
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To attract butterflies you will need to create a habitat - a place where butterflies can find food and shelter for all the stages of their life cycle (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult).
Most adult butterflies sip nectar (sugary liquid) from flowers like the Orange Sulphur Butterfly (Colias eurytheme) on right, but some prefer to drink tree sap or fluids from rotting fruits. Not all flowers are rich in nectar, or have the best size and shape to attract butterflies. Large flat flowers that serve as landing pads for butterflies are definite favorites. Butterflies like the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) on left, can also nectar while in flight, and prefer the tubular flowers that are also favorites of humming birds.
Did you know that butterfly caterpillars (larvae) can only eat specific plants?
Each type (species) of butterfly has its own set of host plants - food for its caterpillars. After the female butterfly finds the right host plant for her offspring (caterpillars) she will lay her eggs on the leaves, stems, and flowers. Her caterpillars depend on her to find the right plant for them to eat, otherwise they will not survive.
The Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) lays her eggs on milkweed plants (Asclepias) that contain a milky substance toxic to other animals. The monarch caterpillar (above) eats the leaves, retaining the toxin which protects it and later the adult butterfly. Most bird predators know to avoid eating monarchs, though there are a few bird species that have adapted to tolerate the toxin monarchs get from eating milkweed.
SUN, SHELTER, AND WATER
Butterflies are cold-blooded and need the warmth of the sun to fly. Their caterpillars need the sun too. Choose a sunny location that is sheltered from strong winds. Nearby woody plants, trees, walls, or fences can provide shelter and protection for the caterpillars and chrysalides in the garden.
Butterflies primarily get their energy from nectar but may also drink water (dew) from plants, wet sand, mud, or even shallow puddles on large flat stones. Butterflies can take salts and minerals from the soil. This behavior is called puddling. If you add stones to a sunny spot in the habitat, you may find butterflies basking in the sun on them - like with this California Sister Butterfly (Adelpha bredowii) on right.
Did you ever wonder where the butterflies go to sleep at night?
Typically, they choose trees in the neighborhood that can protect them from the wind, rain, and predators. If you watch closely, you will find them locate a spot in a tall tree at the day's end that is facing southwest. At sunrise they will be warmed by the early morning rays and be prepared to begin their garden journey once again.
One of the most important conservation decisions you can make is to avoid the use of chemicals in the garden. It is healthier for you, the beneficial insects, and the environment. Any insecticides may affect butterfly caterpillars, other beneficials, and soil microbes. Go Organic and Don't Use Chemicals! Choose plants that attract beneficial insects and birds for biological pest control. Practice a little patience and allow nature to restore the natural balance in your garden ecosystem for you.
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