Creating Habitat for Monarchs, Other Butterflies, and other Pollinators

Butterflies are, in general, attractive insects that readily visit flowers for sips of nectar, to seek mates, and to lay eggs. The Monarch is probably the most familiar, with its black, orange, and white and colors, and you may know that it migrates, rather than relying on over-wintering eggs. Others are the Black and Tiger Swallowtails, Spring Azure, Great Spangled Fritillary, the Sulphurs, Red Admiral, and many more. Scroll down to see a photo gallery of Iowa butterflies.

There is another group that is not quite butterfly and not quite moth, the skippers. They usually are small in size, and they visit flowers or rest on foliage. Their flight is rapid and jerky, making them hard to identify. But quite a few are common, beginning by mid-summer, on mostly native plants. One of the more easily identified is the Silver-Spotted Skipper, with blackish wings and silvery white and yellow spots. It is about the size of a Sulphur. Most skippers, such as the Dun, Least, and Tawny Skippers, and the oddly named Sachem, are smaller, in the size range of Azures and Eastern Tailed Blues. Several of these appear in the photo gallery below.

Our Midwestern butterflies also help plants by moving pollen from one blossom to another, aiding the reproduction of those plants. Our native Iowa plants often are favored by butterflies over introduced species. Butterflies join bees of many kinds, some wasps, certain flies, and a few other insects as pollinators.

Mating Monarchs

The Midwest also is a highly productive agricultural region, and farming practices limit the extent of native habitats, like prairies. Agricultural pesticides may affect butterflies at all stages of growth, and herbicides assure that host plants for the larvae, or caterpillars, and food plants for the adults tend not to grow near crop land.

It is entirely possible for modern crop farming to exist side by side with good populations of butterflies, as long as we enhance and preserve butterfly habitats. For this reason, Leeward Solutions offers services in planning, implementing, and maintaining butterfly-friendly native plantings. This is especially important for the Monarch, which has experienced a population crash over the last two decades.

Three major causes for the Monarch's decline exist: loss of wintering habitat in central Mexico, loss of habitat along the migration routes, and habitat loss and toxicity in the summer areas. You can take an active role in the last, by creating and enhancing new butterfly gardens and larger habitats on your property.

The goal is to identify a location that has good soil and soil moisture for butterfly-attracting plants. For Monarchs, this means one or another species of milkweed. The type of milkweed depends on the overall type of habitat you want: dry or wet, sunny or shaded. In planning and executing a restoration or enhancement area, these and other factors come into play.

In addition, it's best to make your butterfly area fairly diverse, so that it provides not only milkweeds, but also food plants for the adults, and host and food plants for other kinds of butterflies. Leeward can help you plan all this and put the plan into action, from determining if the soil needs amendments to monitoring your site for success.

Backyard Native Plant Restoration

Visit the Contact Leeward page to inquire about these services and to set up a free, one-hour planning meeting anywhere in Polk County, Iowa. (Outside Polk County there is a mileage charge and a fee for travel time.)

The Monarch Joint Venture has more information about a national partnership that is working to create and preserve the Monarch. The