Create an area that will be attractive to humans and butterflies

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

If you enjoy the beauty of butterflies, why not create an area in your landscape for them?

Butterflies are colorful, delicate and graceful in flight. Their visits to your flowers have a purpose—it is a quest for the necessities of life. Plant their favorite nectar plants if you want to attract them.

There are more than 700 butterfly species in North America north of Mexico. Some of these are on the United States endangered list and others have been proposed for protected status. The dwindling species have grown scarce because their habitat has been destroyed by building, draining of wetlands or other alteration to the land.

Their life cycle, from egg to larva to pupa to adult, varies from several months to a year, according to the species, time of year and the climate. Each species has an individual flight pattern. All butterflies perform a courtship “dance,” circling and touching antennae in a way specific to one another.

Shortly after mating, the female begins to lay eggs for several days, in some cases, for several weeks. She looks for the best place to lay her eggs, usually on a host plant that will provide good food for her larvae. The eggs are tiny, most less than one millimeter in diameter, and they hatch quickly within a week.

As a caterpillar, they eat and increase in size and they outgrow their skins and molt, or shed, their old skins. Species sometimes molt four or five times between hatching and pupating. Newly hatched butterflies have flaccid wrinkled wings and a plump body. The wings take shape as it pumps them up with stored body fluids.

Butterflies require nectar for energy. Their sugar sensitivity is fine tuned since they have nectar sensors in their feet.

They need water and certain minerals and nutrients that aren’t available in nectar. These usually come from muddy puddles, manure piles, rotten fruit, etc. Butterflies can be distinguished from moths, in most cases, by the following:

1) The antenna has a little ball, or club, at the tip; moths are often feathered and lack the tip.

2) Moth wings are flat when at rest; butterfly’s wings are upright.

3) Butterflies fly during the day; moths fly at night.

4) Butterflies have slender bodies; moths are thick covered with fine short hairs.

5) Butterflies pupate in an uncovered chrysalis; moths spin cocoons.

To attract butterflies, plant flowers with a single (not double) blooms; this allows for easier access to the nectar. They are attracted to purple, yellow, pink and mauve blooms. If you group your plants, butterflies are more likely to come to masses of attractive plants rather than to a single, individual plant.

Very important to adult butterflies are plants that will feed its larva. Each species prefers a different plant for their larva. Wild plants are a natural food for butterflies and their caterpillar larvae. They like the shelter offered by tall grasses and other plants that grow in the wild. Encourage wildflowers in your landscape. Take time to enjoy nature at its best.

Menu to Attract Butterflies:

Annuals and perennials are: butterfly weed, lantanas, clematis, marigolds, salvias, violets, buttercups, butterfly bush, asters, cosmos, zinnias, verbenas, oxeye daisy and bee balms.

Shrubs and trees are: glossy abelia, beeches, wild cherries, hawthorns, dogwoods and poplars.

From the garden: beans; chives, fennel, celery, cabbage, dill, parsley and carrots.

Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. In addition, the two universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation; North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and local governments cooperating.