Brightly colored butterflies can be a welcome addition to
your backyard wildlife habitat. To attract the greatest
number of butterflies and have them as residents in your
yard you will need to have plants that serve the needs of
all life stages of the butterfly. They need a place to lay
eggs, food plants for the larva (caterpillar), a place to
form a chrysalis, and nectar sources for the adult.
There are extensive plantings of native Missouri wildflowers
at Lakeside Nature Center. You will see butterflies
hovering over their favorites all summer long.
Adult butterflies generally live from 20 to 40 days. Some, however,
are believed to live no longer than 3 to 4 days, while
others, such as over wintering monarchs, may live six
Adults searching for nectar are attracted to red, yellow,
orange, pink, or purple blossoms that are flat-topped or
clustered and have short flower tubes which allow the
butterflies to reach the nectar with their proboscis (or .
Nectar producing plants should be grown in open, sunny
areas, as adults rarely feed on plants in the shade.
Some caterpillars are picky eaters, and rely on only one or
two species of plants. The caterpillar of the giant
swallowtail butterfly in the northeast and mid-Atlantic
states feeds on just one native plant food – the northern
prickly ash. Others, such as the red-spotted purple, will
feed on a variety of deciduous trees.
Over 700 species of butterflies are found in North America
but very few are agricultural pests.
Adult butterflies range in size from the half inch pigmy
blue found in southern California, to the giant female Queen
Alexandra’s bird wing of New Guinea, which measures about
10” from wing tip to wing tip.
Butterfly tarsi or “feet” possess a sense similar to taste;
contact with sweet liquids such as nectar causes the
proboscis to uncoil.
Millions of shingle-like, overlapping scales give butterfly
wings their colors and patterns. Metallic, iridescent hues
come from faceted scales that refract light, solid colors
are from pigmented scales.
During the time from hatching to pupating (forming the pupa
or chrysalis), the caterpillar may increase its body size
more than 30,000 times. The chrysalises or pupae of many
common gossamer wings – a group of butterflies which include
the blues, hairstreak and elfins – are capable of producing
weak sounds. By flexing and rubbing together body segments
or membrane, sounds are generated which may frighten off
small predators and parasites.
Plants that attract