Sheltering Butterflies, Caterpillars and Chrysallises

Shed with open door

open door policy

Following up on a great suggestion from @save_butterflies I’ve been leaving my shed door open. Sure enough the other day a butterfly was sheltering up against the wooden wall at ground level. It’s no longer there. I didn’t get a photo. But that policy is working.

It’s part of a wider plan also from Butterfly Conservation to encourage caterpillars and shelter the ensuing butterflies especially this time of year. Goodness knows we could do with some sunshine.

Step 1

Encourage butterflies to lay eggs by providing popular food source for their caterpillars like nettles (popular with Peacocks, Red Admirals and as it turns out Commas). I’ve found, to my great excitement , 4 Comma – erstwhile caterpillars, now – chrysallises on this skimpy, shady patch of carefully nurtured nettles! (Nettles apparently like lots of nitrogen, so I’ve put my few grass clippings on them which seems to work well.)

close uo of nettles with Comma caterpillar

Step 2

Encourage the caterpillar eggs to be laid on nettles which, wait for it, are located next to a shed door – A shed door which you can leave ajar so that once those butterflies emerge from their chrysalis ( don’t know technical term sorry) they have somewhere to shelter – out of the rain and even over winter! The reason being some species especially if breeding late like these ones will prefer to overwinter as adult butterflies ready to emerge and start the whole process again next Spring!

I never knew that. Was vaguely aware of chrysallises along with cobwebs in old sheds but had no idea about adults sheltering – Some migrants like Red Admirals will even do that instead of flying back to Africa?!

provide a welcoming feast!

Step 3

Don’t forget to give the emerging butterflies something to eat before they go into winter hibernation (for want of better word). I’ve put some flowers nearby but am worried these brash garden centre daisies might contain hidden poisons in the form of insecticides and fungicides – might have to rip them out??

Have planted organic peat free variety of Michaelmas Daisies nearby instead but these due to lack of sunshine haven’t flowered yet and aren’t likely to in time for first butterfly due about 4 Sept !!!

Michaelmas daisy buds

There is some organic Loosestrife (peat free from Beth Chatto’s) nearby and buddleias about – I will move more pots of colourful flowers nearby….being very worried that this cold weather won’t be very welcoming.

Chinese Loosestrife from Beth Chatto’s
Some Marigol ds grown from seed

…Was very worried that is, until remembering early this morning I’d read somewhere recently that to encourage butterflies into your garden this time of year, you can put out rotting fruit! They can feed off the sweetness, good as nectar for them which is their normal rocket fuel! Phew. So I found an damaged apple on my walk and put it I’ve hung a bowl along with peach remains on the nearby willow! Job done, hopefully.

Tasty decaying fruit

Course there are other ways to encourage Butterflies – one v unpopular way is have cabbages The whites are v late to take advantage this year but here they are

cabbage vortex

Quite apart from boosting Large Whites numbers, these might end up as feed for wasps, believe it or not, which are also starting to be at risk and are fabulously important somehow in their own way, in the Eco system. I found that all hard to believe but have seen it with my own eyes. (As in one day a bunch of wasps arrived on my runner beans, and when they left all the caterpillars had disappeared!)

leave grasses long over winter

Although meadows /long grasses require one cut a year it doesn’t have to be in Autumn, it could be in Spring. You can cut some now and some in Spring. Reason being – and I was staggered to learn this – is that some caterpillars (moths as well as butterflies) use the long grass roots to overwinter in and as a food source. Do not cut off their supply!

some daisies in long grass
Cuckkoo flower planted in long grass

Now is a good time I’ve decided to plant in more food sources – more the better as there are different plants for different species all helpfully listed by @KateBradbury in her wildlife gardening book. @ChrisPackham advises Cuckoo Flower to attract Orange Tips – so I’ve planted small clumps here which should flower next year. Honesty is another good one.

Honesty Seed heads
Honesty seed heads which have lost their covers and gone silvery at

I was frankly quite disappointed with my Honesty seedheads thinking they’d gone mouldy instead of silvery – until on closer inspection realised the outer seed cases both sides have to peel off in order to release the seeds. All seed heads good of course!

Verbascum for the Mullein moths

not just the butterflies

Of course moths need all our help too – this Mullein / Verbascum was v popular with the tiny Mullein moths this year . Their caterpillars were huge!! 2 inches long and quarter inch wide!

(BTW you can just see the hedgehog shelter in the background there by the waterbutt “)

The moths themselves are v pretty tiny little day flying moths brown with orange dots….No idea how they emerged from such huge caterpillars!

2x lifesize image of Mullein moth 1cm across looking autumnal

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