Butterflies and Butterfly Gardens in Houston

Monarch Butterfly

Butterflies are pretty insects but not very beneficial insects. The caterpillars are very destructive eating enormous amounts of vegetation, but we love them anyhow. Butterflies are ‘Order of Lepadoria’ which includes moths and butterflies and means ‘scaley wings’.

Female butterflies can lay up to 300 eggs. The eggs will then hatch in 3 to 4 days.

The caterpillar will emerge first eating the shell which is nutritious and soft.The caterpillar will then begin to eat the host plant growing as much as 3000 times in size before reaching the next stage. If you are planting a butterfly garden you need to plant large amounts of host plants close together so the caterpillars do not eat your entire garden. If there is not enough plant material for the caterpillars they do not starve from a lack of food. The caterpillar stage lasts from 10 days to 21 days for most caterpillars.

Chrysalis means ‘gold’; often the chrysalis will have what looks like gold trim. In the chrysalis stage the caterpillar splits inside out and liquifies. The head gets pushed up near where the feet are attached to the host plant. The conversion from caterpillar to chrysalis takes about 6 hours. The butterfly may stay in the chrysalis for 1 week to several weeks. During this time the caterpillar will molt and shed the skin 4 or 5 times.

Some butterfly caterpillars have osmeterium which are neck glands that will wiggle and give off a bad scent when the caterpillar feels threatened.

The first thing the female does after emerging from the chrysalis is to eat, then she mates. Adult butterflies are fully grown when they emerge from the chrysalis. Adult butterflies live about two weeks to a month.

Male monarch butterflies have two dots on the back of their wings. These dots are scented and carry pheromones. The smell of pheromone makes the female drunk so she will mate with the male.

Butterfly gardens should be planted in sunny areas that have some shelter from the wind. You will need to plant both host and nectar plants. Also pick ones that bloom at different times of the year so there will always be some food. Add in a water source and a rock or log for the butterflies to rest upon. They like to sun themselves.

Monarch butterflies take three generations to make the trip from Mexico to the north, but only one generation to make the return trip to Mexico. They can fly as high as two miles high from the ground while making their trip. Houston is the first stop on the way north and the last stop on the way home.  They need milkweed to eat in order to make their trip. Once arriving in Mexico they go into a semi-dormant state and can remain in that state up to 4 months.


Butterfly Host plants
Monarch Milkweed ( Asclepias especially A. curassavica )
Gulf Fritillary Passionvine ( Passiflora esp. P. carulea or P. incarnata )
Giant Swallowtail Citrus trees, Rue ( Ruta gravelolens )
Black Swallowtail Parsely, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace and rue
Spicebush Swallowtail Laurels (spice bush, sassafras, camphor and red bay)
Pipevine Swallowtail Dutchman’s pipevine ( Aristolochia esp. A. tomentosa or A. fimbriata )

* Avoid buying plants named ‘Butterfly xxxx’. They are often hybridized and while they attract butterflies they do not make enough nectar to feed the butterflies.

Many butterfly nectar plants have a small number of flowers or a small number of floral tubes. You want plants that have lots of floral tubes in each flower center. The closer the flowers are to wild flowers the better they tend to be this way.

Best flower colors for attracting butterflies are pink, red, purple, yellow and orange.

Plant a moon garden with white flowers that open at night to attract hawk moths.

Hummingbirds will also visit many butterfly plants.

It should go with out saying but don’t use pesticides if you want butterflies.

More information:
Butterfly- Butterflies of Texas ( lots of pictures of the various butterflies here )

Did you know that a butterfly proboscis works more like a roll of papertowels than a straw?