5 Reasons Why Butterflies Are Important & How to Help

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Regardless of where you stand on your fondness of insects, it is fair to say that butterflies are widely loved and adored. There are approximately 18,000 species of butterflies that are found worldwide, with the exception of Antarctica. Butterflies come in incredible colors and patterns, and some even mimic other animals as a line of defense against predators! In this article, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why are butterflies important not only to their environments, but also the world.

5 reasons why butterflies are important to the environment

Their beauty isn’t the most interesting thing about butterflies. In fact, these insects are actually ecologically significant and play an important role in our ecosystems. First let’s look at 5 reasons why they’re important, then we’ll give you 7 tips on what you can personally do to help aid in the conservation of butterflies.

1. They are a part of the food chain

Everything needs to eat, and for many animals that feed on insects, also known as insectivorous animals, butterflies act as a food source. For example, many birds, bats, reptiles and amphibians will consume butterflies.

monarch butterfly caterpillar by Bernard Spragg. NZ via Flickr

Butterflies have a unique life cycle where they go from eggs to caterpillars (the larval stage) to chrysalises or cocoons and then they transform into butterflies. Butterflies act as food to other animals at all stages in their life cycle!

2. They act as natural pest control

In their larval stage or as caterpillars, butterflies act as pest control by eating certain pest species. For example, many caterpillars will feed on aphids. Aphids are small insects that will chew and munch their way through your garden, so keeping them under control is important!

3. They are environmental indicators

There are certain types of organisms that are referred to as environmental indicators. If these species are present somewhere, then it is a good sign of a healthy environment and ecosystem. This is because they require resources that are only found in a functioning and often somewhat pristine habitat.

The presence or absence of butterflies acts like an environmental litmus test. Simply put, the presence of butterflies is a good sign, while the absence of butterflies could be a sign of a degraded or otherwise unhealthy environment. So the presence of butterflies can help biologists and ecologists begin to interpret the overall health of an ecosystem.

4. They are pollinators

Pollinators are organisms that help to move pollen from one plant to another and therefore help flowering plants reproduce. Butterflies are very efficient at helping to pollinate many species of wildflowers and flowering plants found in gardens, parks and other green spaces. When a butterfly lands on a flower to drink the nectar, pollen will stick to them which they then bring to the next flower they decide to visit.

painted lady butterfly on a flower

Pollinators like butterflies not only pollinate flowers in our gardens, but also agricultural crops and fruits. This makes them both environmentally and economically important.

5. They are important in their own right

One thing people tend to do when considering the importance of certain species is to focus on how they are beneficial to humans. In reality, all species are important and valuable in their own right and have just as much of a right to be protected and supported as any other species. Butterflies make up their own part of the animal kingdom and contribute to biodiversity.

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7 ways you can help butterflies

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, butterflies are an important group of insects that deserve our support and attention. Luckily, there are things that we can do in our everyday lives to help butterflies and our environment.

1. Plant butterfly friendly plants

wild flowers

One of the best things you can do to support butterflies and even have them come and visit your garden is to plant native plants such as wildflowers. Using native plants in your garden helps to increase biodiversity as well as provide food for butterflies and other pollinators. Not only that, but native plants are more likely to thrive and survive in your garden over plants that have more specific requirements.

2. Avoid pesticides in your garden

While pesticides can be great for keeping pesky creatures off of your plants, they can also be dangerous or deadly for pollinators like butterflies. Luckily, there are remedies that you can use as natural and pollinator safe pesticides such as vegetable oil, vinegar or essential oils.

3. Leave some weeds

Weeds, while considered unsightly to most, actually serve as important habitat for butterflies. Butterflies need places to rest and lay their eggs. Native weeds serve as these resting and breeding grounds for many types of Butterflies.

4. Utilize sunny spots

If you have places in your garden, yard or even on your balcony that get full sunlight- this is a great place to plant these native flowers that Butterflies like to feed on. Butterflies tend to only eat in full sun, so having these plants in sunny spots is sure to provide pollinators with prime foraging conditions.

5. Make your own butterfly hibernation hut

In cooler, more temperate climates, Butterflies that do not migrate need to find some place to spend the winter. A woodpile is the perfect place for this as it allows for them to hide and keep warm in the cracks and crevices. You can of course just leave a woodpile for them to use, but if you can it is best to stack several logs in a log-cabin like fashion. You can also leave some cut fruit at the bottom for butterflies to feed on.

Some people breed monarch butterflies using habitats like this one that you can buy on Amazon.

6. Plant milkweed

monarch egg on a common milkweed plant leaf | by USFWS Midwest Region

In addition to planting native wildflowers, perhaps one of the most important things you can do to help these winged beauties is to plant milkweed. Milkweed is essential for butterflies, especially Monarch butterflies, as it is a prime food source for butterfly larva (or caterpillars).

7. Make a puddling pool

Rather than gathering around ponds, bird baths or streams, butterflies seemingly prefer shallow puddles. They will congregate around nutrient rich mud puddles and use their proboscis to obtain important salts and minerals. With that said, you can make several, small, shallow puddles that get a fair amount of sunshine.