I’m an ECE student doing a placement at a kindergarten class at Frankland Community School. Would you be willing to answer a couple of questions that they have about butterflies? I saw that you run workshops about plants that attract butterflies. Here are their questions:
1. What is nectar?
2. What else do they eat?
3. What plants attract butterflies?
4. How do butterflies help the earth?
Hello – Here are answers to your student’s questions along with some resources that may be useful as you continue to explore butterflies with your class.
What is nectar?
Nectar is a sugar-rich substance produced by plants in glands called nectaries. The nectaries are most often located in the flower of a plant. The purpose of nectar is to attract insects such as butterflies to the plant to feed on the nectar. While feeding, the butterfly will brush against the pollen producing parts of the plant and then carry the pollen to other plants as they continue to feed.
What else do they eat?
Most butterflies eat nectar and from a variety of different plants. Some eat pollen or liquids from rotting fruit or wet mud. The butterfly diet varies by species. The monarch butterfly eats only nectar while the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail eats flower nectar and drinks from mud puddles to obtain minerals from the damp mud. Note that the caterpillar stage of a butterfly will often eat only a specific species of plant. The Monarch butterfly, for example lays their eggs on milkweeds as their caterpillars eat only the leaves of the milkweed plants.
What plants attract butterflies?
In general, butterflies are attracted to flowers with a strong scent, are red or yellow in colour and those that produce a lot of nectar. Native plants such as goldenrod are generally best for butterflies but non-native plants that many people grow in their gardens such as nasturtiums and herbs such as parsley are also good. The Toronto Master Gardeners guide to pollinator gardens has a list of both native and non-native plants that will attract pollinators such as butterflies. Click here to find the guide.
How do butterflies help the earth?
Butterflies play an important role in pollinating flowers and provide food, particularly in their caterpillar stage for birds, animals and other insects. Butterflies are an indicator organism which means that changes in their populations can alert scientists early to damaging changes in the environment. Butterflies are beautiful and give a lot of pleasure to many people who enjoy observing and studying them in their gardens and in the wild.
Here are some butterfly resources that may be of interest to you and your students.
The first is a guide called ‘Butterflies of Toronto’. It was created by the City of Toronto as part of their Biodiversity Series in 2010, the year the United Nations declared the Year of Biodiversity.
The link below will take you to a guide on creating a garden specifically for butterflies from the David Suzuki Foundation and gives some good insight into the specific needs of butterflies.
Thanks for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.