How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Habitat loss, climate change and pesticide use have decreased butterfly populations.

Unbeknownst to many butterflies do not live on nectar alone, some species prefer, even require, overripe fruit to feed on. Decaying fruits have carbohydrates and minerals, neccessary to most butterflies. Supply them with flowers, fruit, water and plants for their caterpillar stage, and you will hopefully have a large and happy, diverse population.

Best Food for Butterflies

butterfly feeder
Watermelon turns rather rapidly, feeding overripe fruit to butterflies, seems like a perfect purpose for it. There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. About 725 species can be found in North America/north of Mexico, approximately 2000 species in Mexico, 3500 in Peru, 275 species in Canada and 440 in Europe. Photo by Toshio, Flickr.

butterflies on an orange

Fruit dehydrates and seals up, therefore slices need to be cut into the fruit daily, making more juice available. A blue Morpho drinking banana at lewisginter.

butterfly feeder
Watermelon on a stick. Monarchs can live up to nine months. Monarch larvae only eat milkweed, see bottom of page. Photo by Maggie Rattay, flickr.

butterfly feeder
Making cuts across the fruit allows more juice to be available. visitgainesville

butterfly feeder
Fruit salad for butterflies. Photo by Charley Chrizzy, charleychrizzy.deviantart.

butterfly feeder
A butterfly enjoying a dragon fruit. oceansnsunsets.hubpages

butterfly feeder
Many species seem to love watermelon. Unlike bees; butterflies can see the color red. faq.gardenweb

butterfly feeder

A question mark butterfly eating kiwi in a saucer set on a post. insidestorey.blogspot.

butterfly feeder
Water, minerals and taste. Photo by Santa Barbarian, flickr.

butterfly feeder
Butterflies love red, orange, purple and yellow. Butterflies have good color vision sensing more “wavelengths” than either humans or bees.

Butterflies are particularly fond of oranges, grapefruits, cantelope, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, kiwi, apples, watermelon and bananas, especially mushy bananas that have been stored in the freezer and then thawed. Some species love a “brew” of rotting fruit, molasses, beer, and brown sugar. Some like moist mushroom compost.

Hummingbirds and some species of butterfly like simple sugar syrup: mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, boil mixture just untill the sugar dissolves, then be sure to allow the sugar mixture to cool before feeding butterflies. Adding soy sauce gives a dose of minerals and salt. Do not feed butterflies this sugar mix or honey during very cold or very dry weather as the sugar could re-crystallize inside them before being digested. Fructose is the safest bet for those times as it does not crystallize. A recipe: Lots of recipes here: faq.gardenweb, although I question the long term effects of the food coloring in the Gatorade that so many people have success with.

Flowers with Nectar that Butterflies Enjoy (partial list)

Aster, borage, butterfly bush, calendula, cosmos, delphinium, lilac,  lupines, sweet alyssum, verbena, yarrow, zinnias. See the Pollinator Planting Guide:

Remember Monarch larvae only eat milkweed

Plant some milkweed in your garden, and don’t pick off the caterpillars! ‘Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations.’ Spraying Round-Up and herbicides on roadsides reduces monarch populations.

Milkweed Seed

Black swallowtail larvae eat the leaves of dill, parsley, carrot, and fennel. Painted lady larvae eat thistle leaves.

Make A Successful Butterfly Feeder

butterfly feeder
Putting a plate inside a larger plate or saucer that is filled with water will keep ants away from the fruit. Butterflies have a good sense of smell, they have scent receptors at the ends of their antennas, and taste receptors on the bottoms of their feet. local.wgal


Make your own or purchase a butterfly feeder. $25. decor4u

butterfly feeder
To attract butterflies add neon pink, red and orange plastic scrubbers to your plate or bowl. Butterflies are restricted to an all-liquid diet due to their straw-like proboscis. Photo by Leskra: panoramio.

butterfly feeder
Painting flowers on a tray helps the butterflies locate the fruit. hollyopnshk.blogspot

Increase your chances of the butterflies finding their offering by having flowers close by, or paint or tape colorful flowers (real or fake) to the plate or hanging apparatus. To hang, cut three holes in a saucer, string with wire or chain and hang.

Mud Puddles

Male Butterflies need extra minerals and enjoy mud puddles. The extra sodium and amino acids are transferred to the female along with the spermatophore during mating. This nutrition enhances the survival rate of the eggs. The minerals also help in the production of pheromones which attract females. To make butterfly puddles, bury a container and then fill with sand or gravel. Fill with water, a sweet drink or stale beer.

At night and during wet weather, butterflies take shelter underneath leaves, among grass blades, or in a crevice of a rock.

How Butterflies Eat

butterfly feeder
When not in use, butterflies keep their proboscis coiled up, then unfurl it to suck up nectar, pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, dung or other foods that are in a liquid state. asknature.

butterfly feeder
When unwound their proboscis acts as a straw. A Purple Duke extends its proboscis deep into the fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron. butterflycircle.blogspot

butterfly feeder
Close-Up of a butterfly’s proboscis (coiled straw) coated with pollen. Due to their long legs, nectar eating butterflies pick up only small amounts of pollen on their visits to flowers. Many moths are actually better polinators than butterflies. Photo by Melissa, flickr.

butterfly feeder
Due to the butterflies’ fragility to ecological change, they are an excellent indicator of an ecosystem’s health. Malachite butterflies feeding at a butterfly farm in Germany, photo by Andreas Adelmann, flickr.


Two tailed pasha drinking from an orange. Photo by Forbe5, flickr.

butterfly feeder
Butterflies taste with their feet. A black swallowtail drinking watermelon juice. insidestorey.blogspot.


Because butterflies are cold blooded, they cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees, so keep the fruit in the sun and out of strong winds. buenavistabutterflies.

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Author: Keiren

Keiren is an artist who lives in New York City. A lover of animals, nature, science & green building.

  1. Great article and I will be feeding butterflies this Spring! They are so pretty and I have a new camera to take pics of them and other wildlife, I hope. Your pictures are wonderful!!! I am wondering if frozen watermelon would give the same nutrition to them. I have some in my freezer that I use for slushies, but will be happy to share with the butterflies 🙂

  2. Hello. Thank you for this wonderful site!!! I have put out a feeder and fruit as you recommended and, so far, no butterflies. Please advise me how long it takes, on average, to attract the little guys. Thanks again

  3. This is the best butterfly site I’ve ever found!! Just today I found a tawny emperor that (it looks perfectly fine,no missing dust,or crumpled wings) can’t fly,and I put it in a clear container with a flower,papertowel,dirt and grass. And,reading your site, cantaloupe! It had some,but didn’t take a good liking to it. All it does is sit at the top of the paper towel,probably wishing it was free…also, he is a sticky lil devil! I can never get him to get onto the flower…he must like my hands! 🙂

  4. My family and I got some butterflies this summer and when they hatched, we decided to get some fruit. Oranges was the first thing we looked for (in our house) and we couldn’t find any. Since I looked up this site, I found out we can feed them apples, kiwis, and bananas! Thanks! 🙂

  5. What a beautiful idea!! We don’t have that many butterflies where I live unfortunately, populations are on a steady decline, but every little bit helps right? Thank you for sharing.

  6. Bonjour, I’m a butterflies lover from Switzerland. I really love your website about all your help and discover different worldwide butterflies. Thanks so much/merci beaucoup.

  7. Hi, I would love to sit out my old fruit to attract butterflies but is there a way to do it without attracting more bees?


  8. Thanks for sharing this link, I do interest to do the same way to prepare slice of fruits so I am wishing butterflies are coming to eat it. I do love to see butterflies and will take pics of them, n will take pics of them to and share of facebook and Flicker.

    Have a good day n night,


  9. I’m concerned about the orange slices getting covered by bugs and moths instead of feeding butterflies and birds. Is that a possibility? Is there a way to prevent it from happening?

  10. i was wodnering does anyone know if butterflies can eat or lick the kiwi juice?

    please let me know as i have given them kiwi.


  11. I have this butterfly and I don’t know what kind of butterfly it is and I do not know what it eats please comment back on this page

  12. Cool photos!

    Few advices about butterfly food and drinks (it was helpful for me):

  13. “cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees”

    What keeps the body temp of
    flying butterflies above 85
    in 60 degree ambient temp?
    If it is the flying that generates a
    26 degree differential,
    then they better not land.

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