Become a Butterfly Watcher
Butterflies are some of our most colorful and graceful insects around us, and we can get much enjoyment in observing them. Here are a few tips for becoming a successful butterfly watcher.
Purchase a butterfly field guide, or get one from your local library. A butterfly identification booklet is available from the Division of Wildlife by downloading it here.
|These monarch caterpillars can be found on milkweed.
- Keep in mind that butterflies are most active on warm, sunny days.
- You can observe butterflies by approaching closely or by using binoculars.
- You can also photograph the butterfly, and use the photo with a field guide to identify the species.
- You can also use a butterfly net to capture a butterfly, ID the species, and then release it carefully.
- Characteristics to take note of to help you identify the species include:
- Its size in relation to other butterflies
- Folded or spread wings when it is feeding
- Colors and markings on the wings, both top sides and undersides
- Flight pattern. (Skippers are known for their erratic flight pattern. Think of them as “skipping across the flowers.”)
We get much joy out of watching butterflies feed on the flowers in our garden, but not all butterflies feed on nectar. Some of these are the question mark, red admiral, hackberry, and skippers. These butterflies prefer manure or rotting fruit.
|Soil minerals will attract butterflies like these red-spotted purples.
Butterflies need minerals, especially males to develop sperm. We sometimes see butterflies, often in groups, sitting on sand, mud, or manure, which provides them valuable minerals. This is called “puddling.”
You can make a puddling area in a small dish in your garden with a mixture of sand, Epson salts or table salt, and water. A mixture of sand, water, and manure also works well. Place the dish in a sunny location in your garden and keep moist.
Cut a wedge of fresh watermelon. Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out small sections. The holes will fill with the juices from the watermelon. Or, cut a fresh wedge of cantaloupe and scoop out the seeds.
|This hackberry emporer is attracted to the rotten fruit.
Once fruit is overly ripe to your preference set it out in the garden. Peaches, apples, and grapes work well. Or, make a mixture of very ripe, mashed bananas and brown sugar. You can also add some yeast. (This concoction needs to sit in the garden fermenting for about a week, so it may not attract butterflies right away.)
Note: These butterfly buffets will attract butterflies by day and moths by night. Go out to your garden with a flashlight after dark to see what moths your recipes have attracted.
Provide Host Plants
When you garden for butterflies, you should also garden for caterpillars. You will get the added bonus of seeing both caterpillars and the egg-laying adult butterflies.
|Planting the proper host plants will attract a variety of butterflies. A monarch chrysalis is pictured above.
The most successful butterfly gardens have both host plants and nectar-producing plants. The flowers of plants provide nectar, which is food for butterflies. Host plants are those on which butterflies lay eggs and the caterpillars eat before becoming adult butterflies.
Two of the easiest butterflies to attract are the monarch and the black swallowtail. Host plants for Monarch butterflies are those in the milkweed family such as butterfly weed and swamp milkweed. Host plants for black swallowtails are those in the parsley family.