Butterfly gardening is a growing school of gardening, specifically wildlife gardening, that is aimed at creating an environment that attracts butterflies, as well as certain moths.
Butterfly gardening is often aimed at inviting those butterflies and moths (such as those in the Hemaris genus) to lay eggs as well. Because some plants are not fed upon by adult butterflies, the caterpillar host should also be planted for a bigger population of butterflies. Butterflies typically feed on the nectar of flowers, and there are hundreds of such plants that may be planted to attract them, depending on the location, time of year, and other factors. In addition to the planting of flowers that feed butterflies, other means of attracting them include constructing ¨butterfly houses¨, providing sand for puddling, water, and other resources or food items, including rotten fruit.
Butterflies exhibit polymorphism, mimicry and aposematism. Some, like the Monarch, will migrate over long distances. Some butterflies have evolved symbiotic and parasitic relationships with social insects such as ants. Some species are pests because in their larval stages they can damage domestic crops or trees; however, some species are agents of pollination of some plants, and caterpillars of a few butterflies (e.g., Harvesters) eat harmful insects. Culturally, butterflies are a popular motif in the visual and literary arts.
Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. Some also derive nourishment from pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, decaying flesh, and dissolved minerals in wet sand or dirt. Butterflies are important as pollinators for some species of plants although in general they do not carry as much pollen load as bees. They are however capable of moving pollen over greater distances. Flower constancy has been observed for at least one species of butterfly.
Some people only like to look at the butterflies, while others like to take pictures as well. Others try to help the butterfly population by planting native plants which rare or threatened butterflies feed on. Done correctly, butterfly gardening can increase the populations of butterflies. Many butterflies are becoming less abundant as a result of habitat destruction and fragmentation, and they do not feed on the plants regularly found in gardens. Others may also help in tagging monarch butterflies, which helps scientists monitor the monarch population and their migratory routes.
Butterflies have many predators, including mantids, wasps, spiders, birds, ants, true bugs, and flies in the Tachinidae family. If these predators are becoming a problem, they can be controlled with traps rather than pesticides, which may also kill butterflies and their larvae. There are also diseases that afflict butterflies, such as bacteria in the Pseudomonas genus, the Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus, and Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, which only infects queen butterflies and monarch butterflies.
In the absence of pesticides, aphids and true bugs may infest plants. Aphids can be controlled by releasing ladybugs and other biological pest control agents that do not harm butterflies. Another method of control is by spraying the plants with water, or rinsing plants with a mild dish detergent/water solution (although caterpillars should be relocated before suds are applied). Scented detergents are fine, those containing Oxyclean should be avoided. The aphids will turn black within a day, and eventually fall off.
With small home butterfly gardens, it is common for the larvae to exhaust the food source before metamorphosis occurs. Gardeners of Monarch butterflies will often replace the expended milkweed with a slice of pumpkin, which serves well as a substitute source of food.
Research should be conducted as to what species are prevalent in your area, and what plants they prefer to nectar on. Depending on your zone, some butterfly attracting plants include: purple cone flowers (echinacea purpurea), yellow cone flowers, sunflowers, marigolds, poppies, cosmos, salvias, some lilies, asters, coreopsis, daisies, verbenas, milkweed (especially for the Monarch butterfly, whose caterpillars feed solely on this plant), the butterfly bush (also called buddleia), zinnias, and others.
In addition to expanding the number of species seen in your yard, provide host plants that feed the caterpillars. This is just as important as planting flower beds with nectar-rich blooms.
Topics of Interest
A butterfly zoo, or butterfly house, is a zoo which is specifically intended for the breeding and display of butterflies. Some butterfly houses also feature other insects, spiders, scorpions, etc.
Butterfly Garden is a life simulation game by independent developer Autonomous Productions, revolving around the raising and collecting of butterflies. Initially for the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade, the developers have promised there will be a PC version and WiiWare version. The game revolves around breeding different butterflies via genetic selection, putting the player in the role of a butterfly, and promises a robust online component, allowing users via their online service (e.g. Xbox Live) to visit other gardens and share rare genes. The game will cost 800 Microsoft Points ($10 USD).
For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_gardening
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