butterflies on hand
Butterflies are easy to love. They are beautiful, brilliantly colored, gentle creatures. They don’t bite or sting. So why not fill your yard with butterflies?
Butterfly gardening can be done year-round here in Southwest Florida, and it is a good project to do with children during the summer. You can invite butterflies into your garden by providing them with the fast food that they need.
Planting flowers that attract some of the 170 species of butterflies that live in Florida will draw these creatures to your garden or patio. Some of the easiest ones to garden for are Monarchs, Sulfurs, Black Swallowtails, and Gulf Fritillaries. You don’t need a lot of room to garden for butterflies. Gardens can be simple or complex. With children, simple is better.
But, before you begin, it is important to know something about butterflies and their life cycle.
What are Butterflies?
Butterflies are insects of the order Lepidoptera. Lepidoptera means scaled wings. All butterflies have scales on their wings that overlap like shingles on a roof. Being insects, they have three body parts: head, thorax (which is like the chest), and abdomen, which is the tail end. They have a pair of antennae on the top of their head, compound eyes, wings, and six legs.
The butterfly life cycle has four stages: egg, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis (pupa), and the adult. Female butterflies lay their eggs, which usually hatch within a few days, on the plants that the caterpillars will eat. Caterpillars have voracious appetites and grow quickly. As the caterpillar grows, it sheds its skin several times. This is called molting. When the caterpillar is fully grown it finds a safe place, attaches itself to a twig or other object, and changes into a chrysalis. It is during this time that the caterpillar becomes a lovely winged butterfly.
What Butterflies EAT
Most butterflies sip nectar from flowers. The nectar is sipped through a special tube called a proboscis. Other butterflies feed on mud, dirt, sap, carrion, animal droppings, and rotting fruit.
What CATEPILLARS EAT
Many caterpillars are picky eaters. They will only eat one type of plant, which is called the food or host plant. If you want caterpillars in your garden, you have to know what they eat. Below is a fast food plant chart for some common butterflies in the Naples area.
CATEPILLAR FOOD PLANTS
Monarch & Queen Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
Gulf Fritillary & Zebra Longwing
Passion Flowers (Passiflora suberosa)
Maypop (Passiflora incarnate)
Sennas (Cassia spp.)
Black Swallowtail Parsley, fennel, dill, carrots
LET’S PLANT A GARDEN
To attract butterflies, start by planting nectar producing flowers that they love, such as milkweed, pentas, lantana, coneflowers, marigolds, black-eyed Susan, and zinnias. You may plant a garden in the ground or create a container garden.
An inexpensive way to begin your garden is from seeds. However, children like results quickly, so I recommend that you purchase these plants from a garden center. Do not buy plants that have been sprayed with any type of pesticide, even those that are considered safe or organic. Pesticides are lethal to caterpillars. Ask about pesticides before you buy.
The number of plants that you need will correspond to the size of the garden that you are planting. When buying the plants that the caterpillars like to eat, also keep in mind that they are little eating machines.
Next, start the garden with good soil. I recommend a good commercial garden soil with built-in fertilizer. If you are planting in the ground, dig out and replace the soil. If you are starting a container garden, use containers of various sizes and colors and fill the pots with soil. Plant all of the same color plants near each other. Butterflies like a mass of color. Remember to water the new plants. Plants in containers need to be watered more frequently. Keep weeds in check in your garden.
Butterflies need shelter from wind, rain, and predators. Small trees, hedges, and shrubs can provide protection. So can trellises covered in vines. Blue porterweed, butterfly bush, golden dewdrop, and plumbago are shrubs that provide both shelter and nectar.
MAKE A PUDDLE
Some butterflies need certain minerals that are not found in nectar. These minerals can be found in mud puddles, which you can create. Using your hand or a garden spade, make several shallow depressions in the soil. Make these depressions in different places and in sunny areas. Fill the depressions with water. The water will seep into the soil and you will have mud. Add more water each day.
Fields and woods where butterflies once lived and laid their eggs are being destroyed for houses, shopping centers, and highways. Butterflies depend on flower nectar for food, and today many flowers are sprayed with pesticides. Unfortunately pesticides cannot tell the difference between good and bad insects, and butterflies and caterpillars die along with pests. It is best to avoid using any pesticides in or near your garden.
Creating a butterfly garden has so many benefits. Not only are you attracting beauty to your home and enjoying a fun project with your children or grandchildren, you also are providing a safe butterfly habitat, which aids in the conservation of disappearing species of butterflies.
LOCAL BUTTERFLY GARDENS
• Conservancy of SW Florida. 14th Ave off of Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples. (239) 262-0304
• Naples Botanical Garden. 4820 Bayshore Road, Naples. (239) 643-7275
• Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. 300 Tower Road, Naples. (239) 417-6310
• Collier County Extension. 14700 Immokalee Road, Naples. (239) 353-4244
• Naples Zoo. 1590 Goodlette-Frank Rd, Naples (239) 262-5409
• Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park. Barefoot Beach Rd., Bonita Springs. (239) 591-8596
LARGE BUTTERFLY GARDENS
• Butterfly World. 3600 SW, Sample Rd, Coconut Creek, Fl. (954) 977-4400
• Butterfly Rainforest. University of Florida Cultural Plaza, SW 34th Street, Gainesville, Fl (352) 846-2000