butterfly safe haven

Butterfly Safe Haven This project is currently under development and is being updated as time allows.

In the United States there are approximately 750 species of butterflies. In order to create a Butterfly Safe Habitat, one needs to understand the life history of this insect and how to promote its population growth.

The Life Cycle of a Butterfly
Since butterflies do not tend their offspring, the egg is a particularly vulnerable stage in the butterfly's life cycle. The female butterfly deposits the eggs, often in large numbers, on or near a suitable host plant. These small, compact eggs come in many shapes and colors, according to the species of butterfly.

After a few days, generally four to 10, the eggs hatch. However, eggs produced by the adults in late summer or fall in colder regions may overwinter until shoots begin to grow the following spring, allowing the larvae to feed on new, tender foliage upon hatching.

Once the egg hatches, a tiny caterpillar (larva) emerges and, depending upon the species, its first meal will be either its eggshell or its host plant. Upon reaching the appropriate host plant, the caterpillar begins eating voraciously. Just as with the eggs, larvae of different butterfly species have distinct colors, shapes and sizes.

As the caterpillar increases in size, it must shed its skin (molt) a number of times. After three to four weeks of feeding and growth, the larva of most butterfly species is ready to form a chrysalis.

When it sheds its skin for the last time the caterpillar forms a chrysalis (pupa), again distinctly shaped, sized and colored. Inside this sheathing the final stage of the metamorphosis takes place. The larval structures are broken down and the adult is formed, usually in 1 to 2 weeks.

The adult butterfly emerges from its chrysalis with small, damp wings. The insect is particularly vulnerable at this point. The butterfly will hang with its wings down and slowly expand them by pumping "blood" through its soft wing veins. Upon expansion, the wings are slowly pumped until they are dry. Most butterflies will rest for a short while, approximately one hour, before taking flight.

Many of the caterpillars present in late September or October overwinter in the larval stage. Most of these hibernate when half grown, but some actually spend the winter as newly hatched caterpillars waiting for the appearance of spring buds to begin eating. Depending upon the species, the larvae may take shelter under leaves, in hollow stems, or under rocks or loose bark. Some larvae even overwinter inside fruits or pods.

In some species, the fall larvae feed then pupate in a sheltered spot and await spring or warm weather before completing their development. The chrysalis may be openly attached to vegetation by silk and therefore exposed all winter, or it may be concealed and thus somewhat protected in dried leaves or under bark.

Some butterflies overwinter as adults, spending periods of cold and/or wet weather roosting in hollow trees, beneath bark, on dead branches, in abandoned buildings or in any sheltered accessible location. Hibernation may be interrupted on warm, sunny days when the butterfly emerges to fly and feed.

Butterfly Garden
To attract butterflies successfully you will need to provide areas suited for all stages (egg, larva, pupa and adult) of a butterfly's life.

Before planting a garden, become familiar with the butterflies in your area. It would be an exercise in frustration to attempt attracting butterflies that are not native to the ecosystem in which you live.

Butterflies are cold-blooded; therefore, at rest their body temperatures are the same as the surrounding environment. As a general rule they fly when air temperatures are between 60°–108°F (16° and 42°C). For this reason, situate your garden in a warm, sunny area with protection from the wind. The addition of a few stones, bricks or bare patches of ground will act as solar collectors, providing basking spots for butterflies in the early morning or during cool weather, enabling them to raise their body temperatures more quickly.

Plan, then plant, the garden. Since butterflies are attracted by expanses of color, plant in groups or clumps rather than a single plant here or there. Include a mix of host plants and nectar plants preferred by your local butterflies into an untidy, natural grouping. But be careful, studies have shown that more diverse habitat may not be good for species like monarchs that are so specialized in what they eat and may actually reduce success.

One reason is that a more varied garden can make it harder for butterflies to find their host plants if they're obscured visually or chemically. Butterflies have an acute sense of “smell” using chemical receptors in their tongues, antennae and feet. Heavily perfumed, strong-scented, old-fashioned flowers may actually mask the scent and block their view of their host plants.

Don't be so quick to remove leaves, plant debris and stubble, which could be sheltering a future butterfly.

Refrain from installing fences around your garden or yard as some butterflies, like the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly, rarely fly more than a few feet from the ground, making a fence a formidable barrier.

Butterfly Puddlers
From spring and through the fall we see butterflies on flowers in gardens, yards and roadsides. Have you ever noticed butterflies gathering around puddles or damp soil in the garden? Butterflies get most of the energy and moisture they need from plant nectar. But male butterflies also need minerals, salts and amino acids for reproduction. They can get these nutrients from moist soil, where water has evaporated leaving minerals near the surface. 

Our gardens can provide the moisture and minerals butterflies need by including puddlers or puddling stations. Making a puddler is an easy at-home project which makes your garden more attractive and beneficial to butterflies, as well as other pollinators.

You can make a puddler with a large, shallow clay or plastic saucer. Sand is a good medium to hold moisture; fill the saucer almost to its rim with sand and keep it moist. Butterflies don’t land in open water so add just enough water for the sand to stay moist or to form a shallow puddle in a low spot. Mixing in a small handful of compost or composted manure will add more important nutrients. You can also add small rocks for perching if you like.

Some butterflies eat fruit or fruit juices and adding some overripe fruit at your puddling station can make it nearly irresistible. Set a small saucer in the puddling station and put in a few slices of bananas, oranges or apples. No need to change these every day – the butterflies like it riper than we do!

The butterfly garden is no place for pesticides and herbicides. Although some caterpillars feed on garden plants such as cabbage, broccoli, turnips and mustard (Cabbage Butterfly), or parsley, fennel, dill and carrots (Black Swallowtail), avoid the temptation to spray for you may kill other butterfly species that are attracted to your flowering garden plants. Always plant a few extra vegetables for the caterpillars and you will be rewarded later with beautiful butterflies.

Butterflies are dependent upon plants to provide nourishment for their young and nectar from flowers as their adult food. Butterfly gardening may bring some of these beautiful insects up close for your enjoyment, but habitat preservation is the only solution to butterfly conservation. To date, the only known extinctions of butterflies (for example, the Xerces Blue in California) have resulted from habitat destruction.

Rapid and large-scale changes to our lands and waters mean wildlife are losing the habitats they once knew. Every Butterfly Safe Haven is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds, and amphibians—both locally and along migratory corridors.

Butterfly Safe Haven and the project logo are registered service/trademarks of Black Pearl Ecological

Butterfly Safe Haven Garden Flag
Butterfly Safe Haven Garden Flag

  • High quality, weatherproof, fade- resistant 100% polyester fabric features double-stitched edges
  • Double-sided flag is printed with the same image and message on both sides: Ask me about my Butterflies
  • Displays the Butterfly Safe Haven™ logo to let your neighbors know that your garden has been planted to protect the natural world
  • Top sleeve fits standard flagpoles or stands to display either in your garden or hanging from your house)
  • Includes only the flag - stand / flagpole is not included
  • Choose from 3 sizes: Small – 12” x 18” Medium – 28” x 40” Large – 36” x 60”
  • Made in the USA
  • Your purchase will show as Fish Lips, our retail sales outlet.

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