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Butterfly Feeders

In this activity, students make simple butterfly feeders to encourage butterflies to visit their garden.

Adult butterflies drink nectar through a straw-like proboscis,1.5 times their body length, to reach nectar inside flowers and feed. Nectar contains sugars, amino acids and minerals to maintain their water balance and energy supplies. This nutrition contributes to their ability to survive, mate and lay eggs. Occasionally, when adult butterflies overfeed themselves, they squirt out liquid spray from their abdomen.

Interestingly, the proboscis is not used for tasting though. Instead, butterflies use their feet to taste nectar! Butterflies prefer larger, open flowers, which they can land on to feed.

Small Skipper butterfly feeding with its proboscis

When travelling form flower to flower to feed, butterflies get pollen from flowers caught in hairs on their bodies, which then may stick to another flower they visit, this is called pollination. Most pollinators are insects, although other animals such as birds, small mammals, and bats also help. Pollination is crucial for our survival and biodiversity, most flowering plants rely on pollinators to produce fruits or seeds, and would become extinct without them.

In a city, butterflies may find it difficult to find appropriate flowers to feed from because there are not as many flowers in the city compared to the wild. Petals attract pollinators to flowers through their colours, scent, and even warmth, they signal that there is a nectar meal to be had!

Supplementing extra nectar through feeders may help support butterflies as pollinators. It may also attract them to locations where they are easier to observe and identify. Another way to support pollinators like butterflies is to create gardens with nectar rich plants, especially native varieties.

Objectives

  • Observe and describe the feeding activity of a butterfly.

  • Describe the importance of pollinators in nature.

Materials

  • Per Student:
    1 wooden skewer
    pipe cleaners (pinks, reds, yellows, oranges and blues are the most likely to attract butterflies)
    slice of orange
    sugar water

Key Questions

  • How can I attract pollinators to my garden?
  • Why do we use an orange and sugar water? Hint: What is nectar, which butterflies eat?)

What To Do

  1. Use the pipe cleaners to make a butterfly or flower shape.
  2. Attach the pipe cleaner butterfly or flower to one end of the skewer.
  3. Push an orange slice with a bit of sugar water on the skewer with the end with the pipe cleaner shape.
  4. Place the butterfly feeder in a garden or a flowerpot outside.
  5. Change the orange slice every few days.

Extensions

  • Observe the butterfly feeders. What animals or insects are they attracting? How many of each species?
  • Plant some plants that attract butterflies for a more consistent butterfly feeder.
  • Make a hummingbird feeder. How do these two feeders differ?
  • Discuss the importance of pollinators in nature.

Other Resources

Discover Life | Butterfly ID Guide

Butterfly Conservation | Identify a Butterfly

West Coast Seeds | Planting a Butterfly Garden

Habitat Acquisition Trust | Plants to Attract Butterflies to your Garden

The Habitat Map | Pollinator Garden Plants and Practices