Spring is finally here, and do you know who is migrating back to New York? Normally, the first answer to this classic question is “the birds.” Migrating birds are one of spring’s most welcoming signs, but there are other visions of spring popping up everywhere. If you don’t believe it, just check the new grasses and the plants just beginning to grow. It won’t be long before the caterpillars start crawling and the dragonflies begin darting.
Caterpillars are one reminder that spring is in bloom and summer is right around the corner. During this time of the year, the butterflies are finding their way back to the northeast where they lay their eggs, which hatch into caterpillars as quickly as 3-5 days.
Have you ever wanted your backyard to be full of these flying beauties? One way you can attract butterflies is to build a butterfly garden. These are not your typical flower beds. Different species of butterflies are attracted to different types of plants that provide them with the food they need to grow. Planting flowers which are native to New York is an important first step. To learn more about planting native, visit the New England Wildflower Society or the Audubon at Home page on creating backyard habitat. If you want to create your own butterfly garden, you must first learn what kinds of plants butterflies like to feed on. Here is a list of a few different butterflies and what plants they enjoy:
This bold orange beauty, shown in the featured image above, will feed on a number of different flowers and even drink the juice from overripe fruit, but Monarch caterpillars rely on only milkweed for their food. Milkweed is poisonous to many different creatures, but monarch larvae are able to tolerate the poison and store it in their body, making the caterpillars, and the adult butterflies, toxic to would-be predators. The bold colors are the butterflies’ way of saying “Caution!”
You’ll have to look closely for this camouflaged butterfly. The morning cloak will eat rotting fruit so scan around fruit trees or berry bushes in the late spring or summer. One of their preferred foods is tree sap, especially from oak trees.
The painted lady’s bold reddish-orange top wings are quite different than its subtle gray bottom wings. The painted lady will feast on flowers, and has a surprisingly soft spot for thistles. Don’t worry; the painted ladies enjoy the lovely buttonbush, just as much as spiky thistles
This butterfly may look somewhat similar to the painted lady, but it’s much different when it comes to food. The red admiral prefers sap flows in trees and rotting fruit, but if it can’t get that, it goes for flowers. Oddly enough, this butterfly also enjoys bird droppings, but you don’t have to worry about putting those in your garden.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
This big butterfly certainly lives up to its name. The eastern tiger swallowtail enjoys meals of wild cherry and lilac. Like the monarch, it also feeds on milkweed, especially in the summer. Its caterpillar can fool predators with the amusing eyespots on its large head.
For more information about these butterflies and more, go to the link below for identification tips and information:
When planting your butterfly garden, make sure to keep some space between the plants for easier tending. It may take some time for the butterflies to become aware of the new food source, but with patience and time, you are sure to see them flapping before long. If you want them to stay, consider putting up a butterfly house among the flowers. If you don’t have a green thumb, many of our state parks have butterfly gardens that you can visit, find one near you at NYSParks.com!
featured image is a monarch butterfly by Lilly Schelling.
Post by Mary Greagan.