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Butterfly watching becoming more popular

By creating the right habitat your backyard can become a butterfly sanctuary.
By creating the right habitat your backyard can become a butterfly sanctuary.
Duane Sedlock

Watching butterflies has become a big past time for many people. Some will even travel hundreds or thousands of miles to places like Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Texas and even nearby to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in search of species only available in those areas.

You can also watch them locally at places like the Lehigh Gap Nature Center in Slatington, Jacobsburg State Park in Bushkill and at other nature centers and parks that offer butterfly gardens. Or you can even watch them in your own backyard by developing a good habitat for them.

There are more than 700 species of butterflies in the U.S. and Canada and there are more than 11,000 species of moths. Telling them apart can sometimes be difficult. A butterfly’s antenna usually has knobs on the ends, while a moth’s generally doesn’t.

Butterflies have poor vision, so a mass of color will attract them much more readily than solitary plants; so plant your perennials in groups of at least 3.

Several key plants for attracting butterflies are cosmos, zinnias, coneflower, black-eyed susan, butterfly weed, bee balm (monarda), snapdragons, violets, passionflower, hollyhocks, asters and sunflower.

Also, Black Swallowtail caterpillars feast on dill, parsley and fennel. Rue plant serves as a host for both Black Swallowtail and Giant Swallowtail larvae. Native trees, like black cherry, birch, hackberry, pawpaw, and elm are utilized as butterfly hosts. Some vines that are utilized as host plants: Dutchman’s Pipe for the Pipevine Swallowtail and hops for Question Marks and Commas.

Monarch butterflies depend heavily on milkweed; it is the single most essential thing monarchs need to survive. The larvae feed almost exclusively on over the 100 various species of milkweed. Milkweed is also an important nectar source for bees. Seek out species that are native species to your area.

Milkweed makes caterpillars and butterflies toxic to birds and other predators. Migrating monarchs live about nine months and fly up to 30 miles per hour.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, a common visitor to gardens in the eastern U.S. prefer sturdy plants with red or pink flowers, though they will eat from any good nectar source.

To help attract butterflies set up a feeding station using fruit, especially citrus and rotting bananas. Watering the ground will also attract them. They will gather at puddles gathering much-needed salt.

Shrubs and ornamental grasses are ideal places for butterflies to rest and seek shelter. Do not use butterfly houses; they rarely attract butterflies but will attract wasps and other predators.

Limit the use of pesticides or avoid using them completely. If using any pesticide do not use them on a windy day.

Here are some butterfly facts:

  • Some types of swallowtail butterflies have a 6-inch wingspan. They’re the largest of all North American butterflies.
  • No two individual butterflies look exactly alike.
  • An adult butterfly probably has an average life-span of approximately one month. The smallest butterflies may live only a week or so, while a few butterflies, such as Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks and tropical heliconians, can live up to nine months.
  • Scientists who study butterflies are called lepidopterists.

For more information on butterflies visit the North American Butterfly Association.

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