Sunday, May 3, 2020

Life Stages of Butterflies, and Plants to Attract Them.

Tiger swallowtail utterfly on lantana

If there were beauty contests for insects, adult butterflies would win every time. But their time spent in glamorous array is incredibly short – usually for only a few weeks. The rest of their lives are spent in less dramatic forms: egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis.

“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”
― George Carlin

Butterfly eggs are laid by adult female butterflies on plants, but not just any plants. The plants, known as “host plants”, are chosen for their desirability as food for the caterpillars which eventually emerge from the eggs. Which are desirable? They choose those they are accustomed to by their very nature, usually the ones endemic or similar to those found in the caterpillars’ native habitats.

Butterfly chrysalisAfter the eggs hatch, the caterpillars eat, and eat, and eat a lot more. Gardeners who have had their cole crops decimated by cabbageworms know it well. They gorge themselves because they are preparing for the next stage of their lives sequestered in the chrysalis. The chrysalis looks sort of like a sarcophagus. It is within the chrysalis that the caterpillar changes into a butterfly. It’s for that reason, I think, that the butterfly’s emergence is compared to resurrection from the dead.

After the metamorphosis, the adult butterfly feeds on fruits or flower nectar. These may be the same as the host plant, or many others.

When planting a butterfly garden, be sure to include species that are native to your area. While non-native species might be visually appealing to you, your butterflies might turn up their proboscises at them.

To help you select plants for your butterflies, we at have created a category of plants that attract butterflies. Some serve as host plants; some serve as food plants. You should include both in your garden. Not only that, but we’ve listed specific butterfly species known to be attracted to each of the plants in the category.

Zebra Heliconian butterfly on lantana
For example, if you go to the Lantana listing, you'll read, "Attracted species include Spicebush Swallowtail, Zebra Heliconian, American Lady, Cabbage White, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Dun Skipper, Crossline Skipper, Eufala Skipper, Least Skipper, Ocola Skipper, Pecks Skipper, Zabulon Skipper, Tawny-edged Skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Pipevine Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Great Southern White, Variegated Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, Horace’s Duskywing, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Little Glassywing, Monarch, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Sachem, Silvery Checkerspot."

The lists are not exhaustive, but should be helpful.

If you have a certain butterfly in mind that you want to feed, simply go to the Home Page, enter your butterfly name, and Search. A list of particular plants will pop up. For example, enter the word “monarch”, and this list will appear.

Finch on Echinacea seeds
When your garden is filled with your local butterflies’ favorite foods, you’ll have a lovely display of flowers and butterflies, too. But there could be an added bonus - birds! Yes, many of the same flowers attract birds, as well. Echinacea, for example, attracts a whole host of butterflies, and the flowers gone to seed feed the birds. So, let the seed-heads mature for the birds.

As your garden appeals to birds and butterflies, you’ll help support both, and enjoy your beautiful guests.

Return to

No comments: