Lakeside Nature Center

Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Attracting Butterflies

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 months.

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.

Butterfly Facts:

·          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 Butterflies include

Lilac Cosmos

Golden Alyssum

Red Clover Thyme Common daylily Asters
Phlox Calendula Lavender Butterfly weed
Yarrow Zinnia Butterfly Bush Native thistles

To learn more about butterfly gardening from the Missouri Department of Conservation, 

Click Here

(Photo of Monarch Butterfly from Missouri Extension)


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