Humans aren’t the only creatures who appreciate gardens. Butterflies do, too. A butterfly flower garden contains special plants that provide food for a butterfly to eat during all stages of its life. These gardens give butterflies a safe place to live and grow. There are many different types of butterflies in the world. Before creating a butterfly garden, learn about this insect’s life cycle and the types of plants it likes to eat.
Life Cycle of the Butterfly
There are four stages in the life cycle of a butterfly. It starts out as a tiny egg that a female butterfly places on a plant. The egg hatches in the second stage and a caterpillar comes out of the shell. The caterpillar is called larva. It eats parts of plants and grows bigger. In the third stage, the caterpillar clings to a branch and forms a sack around its body called a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the wings and body of a butterfly form. In the final stage, the butterfly comes out of the chrysalis.
- Life History of a Few Butterflies
- Life Cycle of Butterflies and Moths
- Butterfly Life Cycles
- The Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly
- All About Butterflies
Purpose for Butterfly Gardens
Butterflies are colorful and fascinating to watch as they fly around. It is also interesting to observe how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. One reason you might create a butterfly garden is to simply see and enjoy more caterpillars and butterflies. Another purpose is to make a safe habitat for butterflies. In some places, like cities with lots of cement and buildings, it is difficult for butterflies to survive because they cannot find the plants they need for food. Chemicals used to kill weeds or other insects might also kill butterflies. The butterfly is important to the environment because as it drinks nectar and flies around plants, it transfers pollen from one flower to another. This process of pollination is necessary for plants that produce fruit. Making a butterfly garden is one way you can protect butterflies and help the environment.
- Why Butterflies Matter
- Reasons to Start a Butterfly Garden (PDF)
- Gardening for Butterflies
- Getting Kids into Creating a Butterfly Garden
Butterfly Nectar Plants
The main source of food for an adult butterfly is a sweet liquid found in plants called nectar. The butterfly drinks the nectar through a tongue called a proboscis. The proboscis is like a drinking straw that can be coiled up close to the butterfly’s face when it isn’t being used. Butterflies get nectar from plants that are native to the region in which they live. Just as humans have food preferences, butterflies prefer certain plants for their color or for the sweetness of the nectar. Some of the nectar plants that butterflies like include milkweed, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, zinnia, daisy, and aster. Plant a variety of colorful nectar plants in your flower garden to attract different types of butterflies.
- 12 Plants to Entice Pollinators to Your Garden
- Nectar and Migration
- Provide Food for Pollinators
- Creating a Butterfly Garden
- Butterflies and Blooms
- Plant a Butterfly Garden
Butterfly Host Plants
When a female butterfly is ready to lay her eggs, she attaches them to a host plant. A host plant is one that has leaves and other parts that a caterpillar can eat. Monarch butterfly eggs are laid on milkweed leaves. When the monarch caterpillar emerges, it eats leaves and other parts of the milkweed plant. Dill, parsley, and fennel are favorites among certain swallowtail caterpillars. Some caterpillars eat the leaves of trees, including aspen, birch, elm, and fruit trees. In order for the life cycle of butterflies to continue in a garden, it’s important to plant both nectar flowers and host plants. The host plants might not be as colorful as the nectar plants and they might look worse after the caterpillars chew on them, but they are necessary in the life of the caterpillar.
- Caterpillar Food Plants
- Host Plants for Butterflies
- Larval Host Plants
- Butterfly Caterpillar Host Plants (PDF)
- Native and Non-Native Caterpillar Host Plants for Showy Butterfly Species
- Feed the Caterpillars
According to the Smithsonian, there are about 17,500 species of butterflies in the world. Around 750 of those species are in the U.S. One type of butterfly common in the U.S. is the monarch. It has orange wings with black patterns and white spots. Some monarchs live only a few weeks, but others live for almost nine months. Swallowtail butterflies have a pointed tip on each hind wing that resembles the tail of the swallow bird. A male giant swallowtail can have a wing span of over six inches. Skippers are small gray or brown butterflies that fly in irregular patterns. Their antennae differ from other butterflies by being hooked at the end. With so many types of butterflies in the world, it can be fun to study them and learn about their unique characteristics.
- Butterflies in the U.S.
- Types of Butterflies
- The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
- Coppers, Hairstreaks, and Blues
- Identification of Common Butterflies
- Basic Facts About Monarch Butterflies
- Abundance of Skippers
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