Butterflies aren’t just here in summer; help them all year long

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says butterflies aren’t just summer residents.  In fact, more than 30 butterfly species qualify as late-season residents, staying in the state well into October and November, according to Bridget Jackson, MDC education consultant.  A couple species even over-winter in Missouri and will be active on warm winter days. MDC encourages Missourians to watch for these species and to consider ways they can help all butterflies.

“Goatweed butterflies and mourning cloaks are known to stay in Missouri all winter long,” Jackson said.

The adult butterflies find hiding spots in cracks in logs, fence posts and tree bark to survive the winter cold. 

The best way to help all butterflies, no matter the season, is to plant native blooming plants they can feed on, according to Jamie Koehler, assistant manager at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center.

“Good late season bloomers include Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Milkweed, Eastern Blazing Star, and Coneflowers,” Koehler said. “Early fall bloomers include the asters and goldenrod. These late blooming nectar providing plants will help sustain late season butterflies.”

Fall is a good time to add native plants to landscaping, according to Koehler. Native plants drop their seeds naturally in the fall because most of them need the winter to crack the seed case, she said. Gardeners should put new plants in the ground before the first frost and continue to water them until the frost comes to help the plants get established.

Koehler said another way to help late season butterflies is to add a water puddle near nectar providing plants, and provide shelter for the delicate insects. Butterflies and other insects need leaf litter and stems to survive the winter, so cleaning the garden should be put off until spring.

“Don’t forget to include shrubs like a buttonbush to your butterfly garden to provide shelter,” she said, adding that gardeners should decrease or eliminate chemical use in the garden, which is dangerous for butterflies.

Jackson and Koehler both say it’s important to do things throughout the year to help butterflies because of their important role as pollinators.

“Pollinators across the world are in trouble due to loss of habitat and less availability of their native food sources,” Koehler said. “By planting native plants and reducing chemical use in our gardens and yards all year long, we can help to ensure these butterflies are around, not just into the colder seasons, but for years to come.”

More information on butterflies in Missouri and how to help them can be found online at mdc.mo.gov.