Butterflies are magical to children because there are not many creatures in the animal kingdom you can get close to, offer no threat of harm, and are content to let you enjoy their majesty and even land on you to take a break. To top that off, there’s the thrill of watching the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. As a child observes the many stages of the butterfly, there is magic behind seeing a tiny white egg, knowing that in three to four short weeks it will be a butterfly.
Exploring gardens and nature areas in search of caterpillars and butterflies is a great family activity that offers:
- Quality time spent outdoors in nature.
- Education as you learn about the various butterfly species and the benefit of native plants to our region and environment.
- Physical activity to keep kids moving outside.
Sure, you’ll most likely see butterflies in your yard or neighborhood, but if you really want to observe the full butterfly experience, make some changes to your garden to help attract these stunning and friendly creatures. To build an effective butterfly garden, it must contain a combination of both host plants and nectar plants. Host plants are those that the butterflies seek out to lay their eggs and which the caterpillar will eat before becoming a chrysalis. Nectar plants are those plants/flower that a butterfly will use to eat/drink from to provide energy and sustain it.
It is ideal to use plants that are native to your region or area. Native plants provide butterflies with the not only the exact nourishment they need from the nectar, but also provide the most suitable hosts for its caterpillars. When planting a butterfly garden, do not use insecticides or other chemicals on the flowers and leaves as these will poison and kill butterflies and caterpillars.
In addition to the plants in your garden, create an area where the butterflies can can sit in the sun and bask. This can be done with rocks and sand. Also include a spot for water to collect that will provide the butterflies a place to visit, sip moisture and rehydrate. Sunning and puddling spots like this are a key element for a butterfly garden.
Lastly, some species of butterflies will not drink nectar from flowers. They prefer nutrients found in tree sap and rotting fruit. The perfect solution is to place overripe bananas, oranges, a slice of watermelon out on a raised tray in your garden area. This will provide the nectar. When the fruit begins to rot excessively, replace it.
Take the next step:
Download one of these coloring sheets for your family to use at home, courtesy of the Southeast Michigan Butterfly Association:
- Butterfly Coloring Sheet 1
- Butterfly Coloring Sheet 2
- Butterfly Coloring Sheet 3
- Butterfly Coloring Sheet 4
Print out one of our informative downloads to talk through with your child before you start your butterfly adventures:
- Learn about the anatomy of butterflies
- Learn about the butterflies of Michigan
- Learn about Michigan-native butterfly host plants
Once you’ve started finding butterflies, use these guides to learn more about a few Michigan butterfly species:
- American Painted Lady
- Black Swallowtail
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
- Giant Swallowtail
- Red Admiral
- Spicebush Swallowtail
Learn about the Butterfly Explorer program and our unique butterfly garden at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Enter to win our Camp Little Victors Week 3 Giveaway!
Brendon Weil is a Lean Coach at the University of Michigan Health System. In his role as a Lean Coach, Brendon helps us improve the way we care for patients every day by focusing on opportunities to impact safety, effectiveness, patient-centered care, timeliness, efficiency, and equitable care without regard to gender, ethnicity, geography or socioeconomic status.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.