Create a Butterfly Habitat

Although you may see many butterflies everywhere you go, many species are on the decline due to loss of natural habitats. By creating a habitat in your garden you will be inviting the butterflies in and thereby helping to insure the survival of species that might otherwise die out due to loss of habitat areas. Due to their short life span, most butterflies do not travel far out of their natural zone. A butterfly garden is easy and fun to create.

A basic habitat requires food, water and shelter in order to sustain life. You need to these elements to attract and keep wildlife in your habitat. What will attract different species of butterflies will vary. Some plants offer food to the adult, others to the larva (caterpillars). Realize that butterflies are not looking for the well-kempt, perfectly manicured. They are not impressed with how orderly your yard is, but are looking for a place to eat, drink, rest and have baby caterpillars. If one of these things is not provided they will move on.

To create your habitat, you must first choose a location and having a basic understanding butterflies will help you to create a great habitat for them. For instance did you know they are cold blooded? They need to bask in the sun for warmth in order for them to be able to fly. But there are also a few species that prefer the shade. The solution is to provide for both. This will allow for greater diversity of species. Choose your habitat spot that is mostly in full sun but with some shady areas. For cold weather provide flat rocks that will absorb heat from the sun so they can warm themselves. For windy days provide structures that will give them a place to get out of the wind. This can be in the form of plants, a natural element or something you build.

Plants. Plants provide food and a place to house the caterpillars. The species of will determine its use and some have more than one use. One thing you will want to get is a book that identifies the butterflies in your area and tells you what plants will attract them. If you want to attract a certain species, know their host plant such as milkweed for Monarch butterflies. Another great resource to use is your local county extension service. Give them a call and they should be able to give you all the information you need to create your butterfly habitat for your area.

Generally, butterflies prefer scented flowers that have a rounded top like black-eyed Susan’s or clusters of small blooms such as verbena. Not roses. As nice as they smell to us, they do not attract butterflies. Try to think native plants as opposed to the more cultured varieties. Butterflies really love a wildflower garden. And unlike hummingbirds, they need to be able to land in order to eat the nectar and they do not eat from hummingbird feeders.

Cluster the plants together to attract butterflies easier than spreading them far and wide. Get varieties that bloom at different times of the year to help ensure they stay around. They will leave if one of their needs is not met. Your garden can be out in the yard, on a balcony or patio. As long as you provide for their needs they will come

You can put out butterfly feeders with things such as orange slices, grapes, apples or other fruit on them. That may also attract bugs so be sure to check it often and discard the leftovers in your compost please. Please note that rotten fruit will also attract certain species so don’t clean up to quickly if you want to attract . Remember, they aren’t looking for cleanliness. If you put a birdfeeder up, the birds will help control the bug population.

Aside from the pretty flowers, did you know that raw meat juice, manure of your dog or cat or birds, fungi and tree sap are also very appealing to a few different species? I know the sap leaking from my sugar hackberry attracts a lot of hungry butterflies. I haven’t observed the doggie droppings though and I don’t think I will. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

Have you ever watered your garden and observed butterflies landing on the puddles for a drink? That is called “puddling”. Aside from being a clever name, what they are doing is getting the minerals that they don’t get from nectar. A great little pool you can create for them is to just use a shallow dish with some sand and rocks. Create little sand hills for the butterflies to land on, rocks or gravel to warm up on and puddles of water in between for them to drink from. Or you can only use rock or gravel, just keep them wet. Make sure the water is not too deep and refill when needed. I place mine in dappled shade so the rocks can warm from the sun and the water doesn’t dry up too quickly and they just love it!

So there you have the basics. Once you know what plants to get for the adults and larva, provide some water, a little shade and maybe even a butterfly house and you will be on your way to creating a great habitat for the butterflies and doing your part to help nature and you will get an immense amount of enjoyment from watching your little friends while you relax.

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