In honor of this first great weekend of Florida fall, My Florida Backyard offers an easy project for when you need to take a break from weeding and other chores. Sit down for a few minutes, pull all those Spanish Needle seeds off your clothes, and make plans to build a Butterfly Puddling Area in your garden.
Most butterflies feed only on nectar, which is essentially like drinking sugar water all day long. To boost fertility, male butterflies require other nutrients, like salts and minerals, that nectar can't provide. These nutrients can be found dissolved in water, but landing on or close to a lake or stream is pretty risky for these little creatures. Instead, butterflies will land on a patch of muddy or sandy ground and drinking the water there in relative comfort and safety. In Florida, sulphur butterflies are especially common puddlers, and will even occasionally land on humans to sip their sweat on a hot and humid day. (We speak from experience!)
Belly Up to the Butterfly Bar
Building a simple puddling area in your own yard is a great way to encourage butterflies to visit. This project can be as simple or detailed as you desire; here's what to do.
- Choose a Location: Ideally, you want to locate your puddling area near butterfly plants in your garden already. If you have a spot in your yard that stays a little wetter, you may want to locate it here. Place it somewhere convenient for observation as well; ours is located in the butterfly garden off the back porch.
- Choose a Container: Florida soil is generally very sandy, and doesn't retain moisture at the surface for long. It's best to use a shallow container of some sort to contain the puddling area. We've used both a terra cottta saucer set directly on the ground as well as a low, shallow birdbath. Anything you have on hand will do, if you're not picky about looks - we've seen butterflies puddling in the water left in an upside-down Frisbee!
- Provide Landing Spots: Fill your container with dirt or sand. If you use dirt, avoid potting soils with fertilizers or other additives - butterflies can be pretty sensitive to chemicals. It's best to just dig up some plain old Florida dirt. You may also choose to place some flat rocks in the container, although it's not necessary unless the water is too deep.
- Keep Moist: Without rainfall, your puddling area will likely dry out in the sun each day. Fill with water (we prefer to use rain water from our rain barrel when possible) until the surface is wet.
- Be Patient: It might take awhile for butterflies to discover your little oasis, but they should come around eventually.
*Special Note: We did not take the above picture of puddling butterflies. We found it on the web, and we're not sure who took it or where it was taken. Sure is cool, though!