What does a creature that matures by digesting itself into soupy goo while it entirely reshapes its body into a colorfully-winged beauty want out of life? As it turns out, butterflies just want the simple things.
Ward Upham, state master gardener and rapid response coordinator with Kansas State University, said there are a few things people can do to attract butterflies.
“Basically use native plants instead of improved varieties,” Upham said. “Native wild flowers are what butterflies are used to and look for to feed on.”
Upham said some butterflies also have very specific tastes.
“Monarch like milkweed,” he said. “It’s the only thing they go to.”
Nevertheless, even milkweed has myriad varieties. He suggested that butterfly-seekers research particular food sources of their desired butterfly to be sure that they plant the correct floral buffet.
Adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes, according to information on the National Wildlife Federation’s website.
“If you are working with a big area you can mix a lot of flowers but if you’re planting in a smaller area it works better to plant more of the same plant in one area rather than planting a little bit here and there,” Upham said. “Butterflies can detect a specific plant better when it grows in bigger groups. They also don’t have to travel as far from one plant to another.”
A good nectar source also should be planted in sunny areas, the NFW said, because butterflies typically “feed only in the sun.”
Regardless of a butterfly’s bouquet banquet, they all need something wet to wash down the meal, and most often, their beverage of choice is good old fashioned H2O.
“People should provide a means of standing water,” Upham said. “A birdbath could work, but whatever you use, there should also be a flat area near the water source where they can stand.”
Flat stones, tables, and chairs can provide places for butterflies to rest or “sunbathe.” They also need a place to perform a process called “puddling,” in which they congregate on wet sand and mud to extract minerals from damp puddles. To promote this activity, the NFW said people should put coarse sand in a shallow pan and then insert the pan in the soil of their butterfly habitat, making sure to keep sand moist.
Upham said insecticides, if used, should be applied in the evening when butterflies are less active.
“Most, but not all, of those flowers close up at night,” he said. “If you wait till they close up then there won’t be any insecticide on the blooms when they open in the morning.”
Upham said butterflies act as pollinators but are not as crucial to pollinating fruit and vegetable as bees are. Instead, most people want to attract them for aesthetic reasons.
“People just like to see them around,” he said.
For more information on how to attract butterflies visit http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Butterflies.aspx.