The butterfly garden was planted to attract butterflies and birds to the park, and to provide these animals with a reliable source of food. Spend some time here when the flowers are in bloom and see who stops by for a visit.
Every autumn, Monarch butterflies migrate as many at 3,000 miles to their wintering ground in Mexico and Southern California. An adult Monarch typically lives four to five weeks but each autumn a "Methuselah generation" emerges. These butterflies will live seven to eight months, and they are born to make an incredible journey. When the days begin to get shorter and the air get colder, the butterflies sense it is time to migrate. The Monarch cannot survive freezing northern winters and the plants it depends on disappear in the winter. Monarchs that spend their summers in the western Unites States migrate to the southern coast of California, and populations in eastern North America migrate to central Mexico.
Migrating butterflies travel about fifty miles a day, soaring on air currents to conserve energy and using the position of the sun to navigate. The butterflies flying to Mexico are seeking a very special habitat. After two months of migration, the monarchs arrive at oyamel fir forests, which only exist on a handful of mountain tops. At these high elevations, the forests
are cool but not freezing, and a constant fog keeps the butterflies hydrated. Monarch cluster together on the oyamel fir trees, covering entire trunks and branches. When spring comes it is finally time to journey back north. The Monarchs that overwintered in Mexico will make it about halfway to their summer habitats before they lay their eggs and die. It will take about four more generations of their shorter-lived offspring to complete the journey.
While the Monarch migration is the most famous, many other butterflies and moths you see here also migrate, including Fiery Skippers, Cloudless Sulphurs, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Mourning Cloaks, and more than a dozen species of noctuid moths.
During migration, butterflies and moths depend on stopover oases. These are places along the migration route where they can find food and lay eggs. As natural habitats shrink, gardens like this one become increasingly important for conserving migrating butterflies.
Many plants and insects depend on each other for survival and reproductions. Insects like bees and butterflies feed on the nutritious nectar they find in flowers. These insects may only be looking for a meal, but they unwittingly help plants as they flit from flower to flower. Often when an insect visits a flower, pollen sticks to its body. Insects carry this pollen among blossoms and
fertilize the plants as they feed. Hummingbirds can also act as pollinators, and if you're lucky, you might see one in this garden!
Flowering plants need to attract pollinators to reproduce, and all the bright colors and elaborate shapes we enjoy in flowers have evolved precisely because they have led to successful reproduction. In fact, many flowers even have signals that are invisible to the human eye. Birds, bees, and butterflies can see colors in the ultraviolet (UV) light spectrum, which human eyes cannot detect. Plants take advance of this, and many flowers have UV patterns to attract pollinators. The UV patterns act as a bull's-eye that says,"Delicious nectar right here!"
The world can be a dangerous place for a growing caterpillar, which can be an easy target for predators. Some female butterflies protect their offspring by very carefully choosing which plants to deposit their eggs on.
Caterpillars are not very mobile, and most depend on the plant where they hatch for food and shelter.
Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Milkweed is foul-tasting to most animals, but it is the only food Monarch caterpillars eat. By feeding on milkweed, the caterpillars become distasteful and toxic, and remain unappetizing into adulthood. Their bright orange color tells predators, "Stay Away! I taste bad!"
The Red Admiral butterfly only lay eggs on plants in the nettle family, including stinging nettle. Caterpillars feed on the nettle and older caterpillars make nest out of nettle leaves and silk.
The nettle's sting quickly deters any predators interested in snacking on caterpillars. Don't worry-none of the plants in this garden will sting you!
The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is a master of disguise. To scare predators away, it has false eyes near its head that say, "I 'm a snake!"
Create a Bird and Butterfly Garden at Home
You can enjoy wildlife and support local species by planting your own bird and butterfly garden! Here are a few tips to get started:
Plant native or non-invasive species. This is an environmentally friendly way to attract the birds and butterflies of the Northeast.
Butterflies need two kinds of plants-plants for nectar and food plants for caterpillars. Top nectar plants include asters, milkweeds, phlox, butterfly bush, Mexican sunflower, purple coneflowers, Brazilian verbena, salvias and much more. For a comprehensive listing of nectar plants for adult butterflies and food plants for caterpillars, see the Connecticut Butterfly Association website.
Plant in the sun and add stones for basking. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need to bask, in the sun for warmth. Add some dark stone in sunny spots, and you will have an extra chance to see their colors!
Hummingbirds need nectar. They will nectar on many of the plants listed above, plus tubular flowers such as the native trumpet honeysuckle, cardinal flower, and more.
Leave plants and their seeds in the garden all winter. To provide food for birds and overwintering sites for eggs of some species of butterflies, save trimmings and cleaning for the spring.
Berries for birds. Thriving bird gardens include native, berry-producing shrubs and trees such as dogwoods, winterberry, shadbush, viburnums, blueberries and more.
Birds are attracted to water. Provide a bird bath and try to clean it weekly.
Birds need shelter. Needle-leaves shrubs and trees provide dense cover that is critical to protect bird from winter winds and storms.
"But these are flowers that fly and all by sing..."
From Blue-Butterfly day
Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly
The Monarch egg is laid on milkweed and hatches in 3-5 days
Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed and grow
The caterpillar transforms into a pupa known as a chrysalis
The adult butterfly emerges, and females are ready to lay eggs after about four days.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male in flight
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
False eye spots on a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar.
Annual Fall mIgration and Wintering Areas of the Monarch Butterfly
This map shows the migration routes and wintering areas of the monarch butterfly in North America. Eastern monarch butterflies migrate all the way to southern Mexico, where they spend the winter. Other monarchs in the western United States migrate a shorter distance to wintering zones along the west coast.
Above: Monarch butterflies resting during migration.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Audubon Connecticut