Bring On the Butterflies!

This fairy-like Zebra Longwing is making her way through a Florida landscape.

This fairy-like Zebra Longwing is making her way through a Florida landscape.

One of my favorite places to be this time of year is in my backyard watching the Zebra Longwings dance through the pine stand; just floating through the air like little fairies.  It’s a great stress reliever.  As the temperatures rise to 70+ degrees, butterflies become mobile and begin their Spring activities of mating, laying eggs, and being born again.  The word butterfly originated with the Brimstone butterfly in Europe which was the first to emerge in Spring.  These Brimstones were the color of freshly made butter, and of course, they fly!  There are more species of butterflies than of any other insect, besides beetles.  Here are my secrets to creating a butterfly habitat guaranteed to bring you easy results!

HABITAT:  Most prefer a sunny location to feed and lay their eggs, although the Zebra Longwing likes dappled light like under a pine stand.  Building a garden next to trees is the perfect scenario because the trees provide them with protection from weather and predators.  Draw butterflies to an area away from a vegetable garden or any area that is treated with pesticides. Typically a 10 x 10 area is all you need to attract and keep these lovelies coming back.  You can also place the larval and nectar plants throughout the landscape to encourage them to flit about your property.

PLANTS:    To have a thriving ecosystem you will need to plant nectar and larval foods. Amending the soil will ensure that these plants will grow and keep up with the demands of your insect friends, especially the caterpillars (larva). There should be several nectar plants with flowers in various sizes for different sized butterflies.  Examples are: lantana, pentas, salvias, porterweed, buddleia, coreopsis, firebush, Spanish nettle, verbena, and the list goes on. Caterpillar food is specific to each group of butterfly.  Some examples are:  milkweed for the Monarch.  Passion Vine for the Gulf Fritillary, Zebra  Longwing, and Julia.  Cassias and sennas for the Sulfurs.  Parsley, fennel,  citrus, and pipe vine for the Swallowtails.

PUDDLING:  Offer a place where males can replenish the nutrients lost when they mate.  All they need is a wet area where they can land and feed.  This place can be a shallow planter,  a bowl, a saucer, or anything that will hold water.

LIFE CYCLE:  Most butterflies only live for 2 to 4 weeks, but we are fortunate in Florida to have species like the Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing and the Monarch that can live up to 6 months. The female butterfly mates and lays her eggs on a specific plant, sometimes just one at a time and other times, she will lay in a group.  4 to 7 days later the eggs hatch and the new caterpillars begin eating right away, typically on the newer leaves (they are the most tender).  As they grow they will shed their skin several times. When they reach a certain size, they pupate in a protected space.  A week or so later they will emerge as the adult to start the whole process over again.  Temperature plays a significant role on the length of time it takes to move through each stage of life.

 PREDATORS:  Lizards, birds, paper wasps and flies are predators to butterflies.

Inviting butterflies to your garden is fun and easy…

 Spread Your Wings!