Butterflies and Moths

Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) on garden phlox 2014
Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) on garden phlox 2014

Butterflies and moths are pollinators, too! Butterflies are most attracted to flat-topped flowers like boneset and Joe-pye weed. Other natives that they look for include bee balm, coneflowers, asters, dogbanes, goldenrods, dogbanes, and blazing stars, as a few examples. Non-native flowers that attract butterflies include zinnias, stonecrops, marigolds, lilies, and thymes. Many moths are nocturnal, but there are some pretty amazing day-fliers. Some sphinx moths are seen hovering at flowers during the day, most notably the hummingbird clearwing.

Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed in the Ottawa Valley Aug. 2011
Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed in the Ottawa Valley Aug. 2011

The best way to attract butterflies, though, is to provide food for butterfly caterpillars,  most of which eat the leaves of plants. Some of the most important native plants for butterfly caterpillars in Canada include milkweeds, asters, pearly everlastings, violets, turtleheads, mallows, and purpletop grass. Important trees for many types of butterflies and moths include black cherry, oak… Non-native plants for caterpillars include parsley, sunflowers, and snap dragons.

Some butterflies don’t feed on flower nectar. Many drink the sap from trees or get their nourishment from decaying organic matter, such as fruit.

Butterflies don’t fare very well in the cold or wind. They like to bask in the sun on rocks and stones, which retain the heat of the sun. They prefer calm sunny days and they do well in sheltered areas, so they expend less energy foraging for nectar. They look for masses or swathes of blossoms in order to get as much nectar as possible without having to fly great distances to find food.

Butterflies need water, and they look for it in patches of wet sand or gravel at ground level.

It is very important to refrain from using herbicides and pesticides in your yard and gardens, as this is often fatal to caterpillars, butterflies and moths and the birds and other animals that prey on them. Using organic fertilizers such as compost rather than chemicals is also a much more sustainable way to provide a wildlife-friendly environment on your property.

Lastly, many butterflies and moths overwinter in the fallen leaves in our yards. If we dispose of the leaves, we are disposing of this wildlife in their various stages of life, be it eggs, larvae, pupae or adults. Raking the leaves into the areas under your trees and shrubs, gardens, or out-of-the way areas will not only contribute to an improved organic content of the soil, but it will yield higher numbers of butterflies and moths in our yards the following year.

Click below to see caterpillar metamorphosizing


Click on the link below to see a monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis

Below: A photo gallery of butterflies and moths in our yard over the past few years…


Click on link below to see 3D Scans showing caterpillars turning into butterflies