Want Butterflies? Plant Host Plants!

I’m often asked, “How do I start a butterfly garden?” and, “How can I get butterflies to come to my garden?” or, “I have lots of flowers but how come I never see any butterflies?”

Plant host plants! It takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden. Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.

If you do not have host plants in your garden, butterflies may come to visit the flowers for nectar, but then they will leave. Butterflies are on a mission. Females are busy looking for places to lay their eggs. Males are also attracted to host plants, where they can find females for mating. So make it easy for them and plant those plants they need for their offspring.

A female Monarch butterfly deposits eggs on Tropical milkweed. One female can deposit 400-500 eggs in her short lifetime.

Below are some common North American butterflies and their host plants. I have included some of the most common and easiest butterflies to attract. As you learn more about the different species of butterflies that are native to your area you can expand the different types of host plants to put in your garden.

In my opinion, the most important host plant you can have in your butterfly garden is Milkweed, and the more the better! There are many species of Milkweeds you can plant which are suited to where you live. In fact, in the United States, there are over 100 species of native Milkweeds. It can be challenging to find native milkweeds to purchase at local nurseries. Your best bet is to find native nurseries in your area that might carry native Milkweeds. You can find seeds and starter plants online here: https://amzn.to/2Y4X0Ey

The American Lady is found throughout temperate North America.

Common Rue is one of my favorite host plants. It can grow 2-3 feet tall and is a perennial.

Black Swallowtails are found from southern Canada through to South America. In North America, they are more common east of the Rocky Mountains.

There are several species of passion vine that can be used as host plants but the Blue Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) is a vigorous, deciduous vine that is hardy down to −10 °C (14 °F).

Painted Lady butterflies are found in all 48 contiguous states. These butterflies use many different plants as hosts but these are some of the most common.

Common Buckeye butterflies are found in the southern half of the US and the eastern side of the northern half of the United States. Buckeye butterflies lay eggs on a wide variety of host plants.

Cabbage White butterflies are found throughout North America. Great Southern White butterflies are found from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. It is migratory along the southeastern coast of the United States, with strays to Maryland, Kansas, and Colorado.

Remember, you cannot have a butterfly without the caterpillar and you cannot have the caterpillar without that host plant. So plant lots of host plants. You can never have too many.

For a more comprehensive list of butterflies and their host plants, click here.

Resources for Host Plants:
Rose Frankin Perennials 
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm 
Lupine Gardens and Chemical Free Native Plants

Are Wasps a Challenge in Your Garden?

Most butterfly gardeners are aware that wasps can wreak havoc in the garden. Many are natural predators of butterflies and their young.

Many people this summer have been complaining that wasps are killing off the butterfly caterpillars in their garden. Wasps can definitely be a challenge. Wasps will attack and consume eggs, caterpillars, and even the chrysalises.

Last summer I had a huge problem with wasps. I do not like to use wasp spray to kill the wasps because I feel that the pesticide can have a negative impact on the butterflies and other insects, including bees. I usually just try to eliminate the nests by knocking them down, but I got stung in the process. And believe me, that is not a pleasant experience. So I have come up with some solutions to deal with those pesky wasps.

Wasps are on constant patrol for butterfly caterpillars.

Protect the caterpillars in your garden. One of the easiest ways to protect the young larvae is to cover the plant on which they are feeding with mesh netting.

Organza bags with drawstrings can be used to protect eggs and caterpillars. They are inexpensive and easy-to-use. Click Here or on this photo for more information and to purchase.

You can use a tomato cage or wooden dowels to support netting over the host plants to protect caterpillars from wasps. Thanks to Kristine Sgrignoli Davison for sharing these ideas and photos.

Shelter your butterfly livestock. Another way to protect eggs and caterpillars is to place them in a pop-up cage or large screened enclosure. A screened-in porch is a perfect place to raise caterpillars. I will place potted host plants outside and then once a female butterfly has deposited eggs on the plant, I will place the plant inside a pop-up cage inside or on a porch.

Placing caterpillars inside pop-up cages are a very effective way to protect them from wasps. Click Here or on this photo to see a variety of cages and to purchase.

Eliminate the wasps. Although it’s impossible to eliminate wasps altogether, you can try to get rid of as many as possible using wasp traps. You can purchase commercial traps or you can make your own. The ingredients inside will attract wasps in a matter of days. Because the head is turned around, they’ll slide right in and won’t be able to come out. Just be sure to keep an eye on the trap. You’ll need to dispose of the dead wasps periodically and refill the trap with ingredients when necessary.

Click Here or on this photo to see more information and to purchase these non-toxic wasp traps.

The added vinegar in this recipe is important because it’ll keep bees away and we don’t want to harm the bees!

Keep the wasps away! Another less-invasive strategy is to hang up decoy wasps nests. Some wasps are territorial and so will not make new nests near other existing nests. You can make your own by using a small paper bag or you can purchase commercially-made decoys.

This wasp-deterrent nest repels wasps, is eco-friendly, and will function without harm to you and your family. Simply hang these for effective results! Click Here on on this photo for more information and to purchase.

Click here to learn about the different kinds of wasps: 
https://www.pests.org/get-rid-of-wasps/

Butterflies of North America (Animated Poster)

butterflies

Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady: https://amzn.to/2PFvZn4

The Dangerous Lives of Butterflies

We tend to envision butterflies as delicate carefree creatures happily flitting from flower to flower and floating lazily through the sky to its next destination. But in reality, butterflies are quite tenacious in surviving the dangerous world they live in.

The fact is a butterfly’s life is not all that rosy. They are surrounded by predators from the time they begin their life as an egg, during the larva and pupa stage, and as an adult. Out of the hundreds of eggs one female deposits during her lifetime, only a few survive to become adults. The butterfly’s ability to survive the many attacks it faces during its short life is what fascinates me about these iconic insects.

The adult butterfly uses many tactics to survive attacks from their many predators including birds, spiders, frogs, lizards, rats, dragonflies, hornets, wasps, and praying mantis.

A spider attacks a butterfly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poison

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed (Asclepias, spp.) As the caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves, they ingest chemicals called cardiac glycosides. The caterpillars sequester (hold on to) these toxins as they pupate, and the toxins are transferred to the adult butterflies. Birds or other creatures that eat the monarchs become sick, so they learn to leave both the butterflies and larvae alone.

Female Monarch (Danaus plexipus) depositing an egg on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).

 

Poisonous butterflies have flashy wings to reinforce the association between appearance and illness. For example, the bright orange colors of the Monarch are warning signs for vertebrates to stay away. Scientists call this aposematic coloration. Just as we humans learn that high-visibility vests and orange cones mean danger, birds and other predators learn that brightly colored monarchs are harmful to eat. Many different species of butterflies use aposematic coloration to protect themselves from predators.

The wings of a Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) have similar shape and color schemes as those of a Monarch, ostensibly reducing the predation rate. (Photo by Ken Donaldson.)

Mimicry

Some butterflies simply fool their predators. As caterpillars, they feed on nontoxic plants, and when they become adult butterflies, they are perfectly good food. However, they have evolved wing colors and patterns that look almost exactly like those of the toxic species—a phenomenon called mimicry. Birds and lizards that have learned to avoid bold warning coloration and leave these imitators alone.

The Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) caterpillar feeds on the Pipevine plant (Aristolochia). The Pipevine contains Aristolochic Acids which accumulate in the caterpillar and are transferred to the adult butterfly (sound familiar). This acid is highly toxic. Many species of local butterflies mimic the dark colored Pipevine Swallowtail including the Spice Bush Swallowtail (Papillio troilus),the Red Spotted Purple (Limennitis arthemis), the Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papillio polyxenes), and and the the dark morph form of the female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glacucus).

Some butterflies mimic the dark-colored Pipevine Swallowtail including the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papillio troilus) ,the Red Spotted Purple (Limennitis arthemis), the Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papillio polyxenes), and the dark morph form of the female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glacucus).

 

Camouflage

Many butterflies protect themselves through camouflage. By folding up their wings, they reveal the undersides and blend in with their surroundings. Through this strategy, known as crypsis, they become nearly invisible to predators.

With the wings closed it is difficult to see the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) on the tree bark.

 

There are butterflies whose wings are designed to resemble vegetation or tree bark. Some species even have transparent wings. These adaptations serve as camouflage, making it easy for the insects to avoid predators by going unseen.

The transparent wings of the Greta oto allow it to blend in with its environment making it difficult for predators to detect.

Flying Pattern

Butterflies are fast and erratic fliers. Their distinct fluttering motion makes it difficult for predators to determine where they will go next, making pursuit difficult.

Eyespots

There are some species that have enormous spots on their wings that resemble eyes. It’s thought that these eyespots mimic the eyes of predators, therefore, act as a deterrent to predators by making attackers think they are suddenly facing a larger and potentially dangerous animal.

The Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) has a series of eyespots on the inside of the fore and hind wings which are often displayed as the insect holds the wings open to bask. These are believed to direct the attacks of birds away from the more vulnerable body.

The Owl butterflies, the genus Caligo, are known for their huge eyespots, which resemble owls’ eyes. They are found in the rainforests and secondary forests of Mexico, Central, and South America.

Rather than preventing an attack entirely, another use for eyespots is to distract predators. The markings encourage an attacker to aim for parts of the insect’s body that aren’t vital for its survival – such as the edges of the wings. Attacks directed at the wing margins offer a higher chance of survival, as the insect would be able to survive with just a torn wing.

Some butterflies, like this Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda) have got a series of little eyespots on their posterior so that would distract a predator to a non-vital part of the body.

Scaled Wings and Wing Design

The scales that cover the wings of butterfly form some protection by making the wings slippery so when a predator tries to catch the butterfly, the butterfly can sometimes slip away. Most swallowtails have distinctive tails on their hind wings. These tail-like extensions of the hind wings can distract birds so that when the bird attacks it only is able to get a piece of the wing, allowing the butterfly to escape.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) was most likely attacked by a predator but survived the attack with only losing part of its wings.

The Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) has posterior markings and small tails that mimic antennae that confuse predators.

Mother Nature has unique ways to help protect these flying beauties!

Ladybug Love

When I was a young girl, I walked home from school one day and found a bush covered with ladybugs. I was fascinated by these little round red bugs and amazed at how friendly they were.

These tiny bugs actually allowed me to pick them up and hold them. They crawled on my arm and then they would open their red shells and reveal their wings and fly away. I must have lingered too long because my mother came walking up the street to see why I hadn’t arrived home.

Coccinellidae is a widespread family of small beetles ranging in size from 0.8 to 18 mm. The family is commonly known as ladybugs in North America, and ladybirds in Britain and other parts of the English-speaking world. Wikipedia

 

I’m still fascinated by these little creatures. Last spring I was walking along the Jordon River in Riverton, Utah, USA. I was in search of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) caterpillars. Thistle grows wild all along the banks of the river and in the spring the butterflies will lay their eggs on the leaves. To my uttermost delight, I not only found Painted Lady larva snug in their silken nests on the thistles, but I also found ladybugs. Lots of ladybugs!

Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) covered with Ladybugs.

Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans)

Mating Ladybugs

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) larva will spin a silk nest on the leaf to protect themselves from predators.

The ladybug life cycle is not much different from the life cycle of a butterfly. The ladybug goes through the same four stages as a butterfly, the egg stage, the larva stage, the pupa stage, and the adult ladybug stage. That day along the river I was able to observe all four stages of the ladybug.

The lifecycle of a Ladybug.

Ladybugs are one of my best friends in my butterfly garden. One ladybug will consume up to 50 to 60 aphids per day. Adult ladybugs, as well as the larva, will also eat a variety of other insects including scales, mealybugs, leafhoppers, mites, and various types of soft-bodied insects. Ladybugs are a very beneficial group of insects for your garden.

One Ladybug will consume 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.

You can sometimes find Ladybugs to purchase from your local garden center. They can also be found online. One of my favorite activities as a teacher of young children was to read the book The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle (my personal favorite) and then take the children outside to have their very own experience with “friendly” ladybugs. I would place one bug on their hand and watch their faces light up with joy as they held the bug.

A young child is captivated by a Ladybug.

Gardening Know How provides the following tips for when purchasing ladybugs and keeping them in the garden:

First, realize that the same things that you do to attract butterflies will also help keep ladybugs in your yard. Making sure that there is food, shelter, and water will go a long way to making your garden look like a good place to settle down and lay eggs (which means more ladybugs).

Second, you need to help give yourself a day or so to convince the ladybugs that your garden is a good place to live. When you receive your ladybugs, place them in the fridge for six to eight hours. This will slow them down (but will not kill them) and keep them from flying right off when you open the container.

Third, make sure you release them at the right time. Twilight hours are the best time to release ladybugs, as again, they will be likely to fly off. Right after dusk or right before dawn is the perfect time to let your ladybugs go.

Fourth, release the ladybugs in the right place. The easier you make it for them to find food and water, the faster they will figure out your yard is where they should stay. Choose either an aphid-infested plant or one of the flowering plants that ladybugs like. Gently water the plant so that the leaves have water on them. Then, release the ladybugs near it.

With these tips, attracting and keeping ladybugs in your garden can be a snap. You can enjoy the benefits of attracting ladybugs all summer long along with the butterflies!

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle will delight children of all ages. Click here to purchase.

Purchase live Ladybugs here.

The Insect Lore Ladybug Land with Live Larvae lets kids and adults observe every fascinating stage of ladybug metamorphosis at home or in the classroom. Click here to purchase.