Friday, April 10, 2020

What Butterfly Is That?

What Butterfly Is That? By Cherie Luke, Jefferson County Master Gardener

Is one of your gardening goals this year to attract more butterflies? Mine is!

Butterfly gardening, and butterfly watching have become increasingly popular in the last few years, along with butterfly conservation. Many people think that butterflies are also good pollinators because they spend a lot of time on flowers but they are not. They do not have a body shape conducive to transferring pollen for most flowers. Still, I find watching them can be fascinating and beautiful as they fly around the garden from flower to flower.

Butterflies belong to the family of insects known as Lepidoptera. There are 20,000 species of butterflies worldwide and 575 in the continental United States.

To attract butterflies to your yard, first and most important is to have a life-sustaining environment. It is vital that insecticides are not used in or near your garden.

Butterflies need flowers for nectar (energy), and specific caterpillar host plants to lay their eggs. Host plants have evolved in order to feed the caterpillars that emerge from these eggs. After emergence, caterpillars eat the host plant leaves. Without host plants in your garden or yard, butterflies will go elsewhere when it's time to lay their eggs. Trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses all can serve as important host plants.

Monarch butterfly on host plant Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) in my yard
It is also a good idea to have a water source for butterflies. A saucer with pebbles, on or low to the ground, makes a good place for them to have a drink. Just remember to keep the water fresh.

And last but not least, it's fun to identify what kinds of butterflies are attracted to your garden. There are many books available to help you identify which butterflies are visiting your garden. The new one I like is, Butterflies of the Colorado Front Range, A Photographic Guide to 100 Species, by Janet R. Chu and Stephen R. Jones.

For more information on attracting butterflies to your garden see:

Information on understanding pesticide impact on butterflies:

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