For butterflies to fly, the temperature has to be above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the days have to be sunny and not windy. During spring, when days are appropriate to fly, butterflies stand in a sunny area because they need to warm up their bodies. In order for them to fly, their body temperature should be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Food and water
When planning a garden with the goal to attract butterflies, it is important to include plants that will support the whole life-cycle of the butterflies. For example, a monarch caterpillar needs to grow 200 times its size in 10 to 14 days, therefore, it needs a lot of food to survive. Most caterpillars are picky eaters, they will only feed on specific plants, thus it is important to plant host plants as well as plants that will provide nectar. For instance, monarch butterflies will lay their eggs and their larva will only feed on plants from the genus Asclepias (milkweed). The adult monarch will feed from many other types of flowers.
Caterpillars are heavy feeders and can devour a plant in a couple of days. Before getting rid of plants in your garden, investigate what is nibbling on the leaves. If you don’t see anything during the day check the plants at night; many insects feed at night.
An ideal butterfly garden will have at least 6 hours of direct sun, will include plants that bloom at different times of the year, and will have different heights.
Butterflies feed on sap, nectar, rotting fruits, carrion, and animal droppings. They need salt and minerals to live. They also need water to survive, you might see them feeding on wet mulch, compost or any wet area.
Butterflies cannot feed on the go like hummingbirds do; they need a place to land. They prefer composite flowers and flowers from the Asteraceae family because they provide a large platform for resting while they extract nectar from flowers. Usually large butterflies visit large flowers and small butterflies visit small flowers. They feed from flowers with tubular parts.
Butterflies are nearsighted, they can spot a large plant or a cluster of flowers but they cannot recognize patterns. Their vision is monocular, not binocular like humans, therefore they cannot assess depth or distance in the same way we do. The landscape design rule of planting in groups is not only appealing to the human eye, but also beneficial to butterflies.
Butterflies will visit almost any color flower; they prefer white, pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange flowers and they might stay away from green or blue flowers.
Wind, rain and cold
Butterflies need protection from the wind, rain and cold temperatures. It is important to provide shelter for them. They will find refuge on shrubs and trees that are 150 feet or less from the garden. Also, a woodpile, brush pile or a pile of rocks for the butterflies to make their chrysalis, 99% of the time caterpillars will go away from the host plant to make the chrysalis.
It is important to avoid excessive fall clean-up and early spring clean-up. There are many native butterflies in Illinois that spend their winter as chrysalises or as adults. They overwinter on stems, crevices, trunks, woodpiles or brush piles. Wait until the temperature is consistent and above 60 degrees so the chrysalis or butterfly can come out dormancy and start a new life cycle.
MOTHS VS. BUTTERFLIES
Many moths are beneficial to the garden, a lot of them are important pollinators, some are active during the day and some during the night. They come in different colors, shapes and sizes, and they are often mistaken for butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. Some moths could devour or destroy a crop in a few days, others could damage clothes and are considered pests. Before killing moths, find out if they are beneficial or not.
Butterflies fold their wings while standing, moths keep them open
Butterflies are primarily diurnal, moths are primarily nocturnal
Moths usually have straight antennae and butterflies have them curved.
GARDENING TIPS TO ATTRACT BEES AND BUTTERFLIES
- Plant native plants
- Diversify when planting
- Eliminate the use of pesticides
- Put a shallow container of clean water in your garden so they can get a drink
- Provide a continuous succession of blooming plants from early spring through fall.
- Plant in clusters or groups of 3 plants or more of the same species.
- Grow plants that will provide shelter from the cold, rain and wind.
- Avoid planting invasive plants
- Plant butterfly and moth larval host plants
- Grow plants with different heights in the garden
- Avoid early spring clean-up and excessive fall clean-up