While we hear a lot about bees and how important they are to our food system, and to pollinating non-edible plants, we don’t hear as much about butterflies even though they are also pollinators. In fact, butterflies are second only to bees in pollination of our food supply and they also provide an important indicator of the overall environmental health of an area.
Here are some ways that you can help the butterfly population in your area to remain healthy and plentiful.
Create a butterfly-friendly garden. Butterflies drink the nectar of flowering plants. So plant things that attract them to your garden. These are typically native, flowering plants, like butterfly weed, bee balm, mints, and sages.† The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has a great page with comprehensive links on creating a butterfly garden and habitat including regional butterfly guides.
Help to count them. Counting them helps to assess the health of the environment. While you can certainly do an “unofficial” count, wouldn’t it be more fun and more helpful to be part of the official one? You can take part in the NABA Butterfly Count Program that covers butterflies of North America. This ongoing program offers different counts at different times of the year in regions all across North America. Check the NABA page to find counts near you and instructions on how to participate. If you live in Great Britain, you can take part in a more informal way, via the Big Butterfly Count that is taking place from July 20 to August 11.
Don‘t “release“ commercial butterflies into the environment. Several years ago NABA published “There’s No Need to Release Butterflies — They’re Already Free” outlining why they believe that releasing commercially raised butterflies at weddings and other events is a bad idea. If you buy butterflies that don’t belong where you live, they will not have the right environmental conditions to survive winters, they can also release diseases and parasites to the wild butterfly populations, and these commercial butterfly releases are now creating a black market, “poaching” environment putting the butterflies in further jeopardy.
Take action against the interstate shipment of commercial butterflies. †Let the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) know that you oppose the shipment of commercially-raised butterflies intended for release into the environment. NABA has all the contact information and talking points you need to make your voice heard.
First Aid for Butterflies