Butterflies, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love the sight of them drifting through the garden.
They’re almost certainly up there with Ladybirds and Bumblebees as the world’s most adorable insects, and are unmatched in the sheer diversity of beauty present across the thousands of species found under their multi-coloured umbrella.
Unfortunately – and it’s a big unfortunately – their numbers have been on a steep decline over the last few decades. New species of endangered butterflies are becoming increasingly, depressingly common.
It’ll come as no surprise that destruction of traditional habitat and overuse of pesticides rank at the top of the causes of this decline.
Not that the predictability of this whole situation makes it any less of a bummer.
However! Taking a step out of bummers-ville for just a second – There are plenty of small actions that we, the everyday public, can take to help arrest this decline.
Habitat. Forage. These essential prerequisites to a thriving butterfly population are very well understood at this point, and it doesn’t take much to set up whatever outdoor space you have access to in such a way that it becomes a veritable butterfly-nirvana.
So, whether you’re reading this from your 100 acre estate, or sat next to your one windowsill escape to the land of fresh-air and sunshine – This guide is here to walk you through the simple steps to attracting butterflies into your outdoor space, and in turn, lending a helping hand to our much loved Lepidopteran (Fancy word for a butterfly, I couldn’t resist) brethren.
Plant Butterfly Friendly Plants
Interested in building a pollinators dream garden? Take a look at our guide to the top Pollinator Friendly Perennials for a beautiful garden full of food & forage.
Butterflies are a hugely diverse family of insects. While this means we get to enjoy a huge array of shapes, sizes and colours, it also means planting in a way which supports each and every butterfly’s individual needs is nigh on impossible.
In fact, one of the most common reasons for species becoming endangered or even extinct is the loss of a particular plant from their local environment.
When their entire life cycle has revolved around a very particular type of plant, it’s easy to see why it suddenly not being around anymore can cause a population to collapse.
So, having said that, if you’re in the right area and interested in planting specifically for our select few endangered species listed below – We’ve included their particular key flora there to give you a headstart.
If however like me, you aren’t in an area where one extremely rare butterfly population is requiring support, then planting common butterfly-friendly plants is the best way to go.
By doing this we provide food, shelter and nurseries for what could well become the endangered butterflies of tomorrow – Without our help.
So get planting those seeds, dividing those roots and dipping those cuttings because we’ve got some work to do.
It’ll come as no surprise to regular visitors to EcoGeeks that I’m a bit of a perennial fanboy. One look at our Pollinator Friendly Perennials Guide will tell you all you need to know on that one.
Call me lazy, but I like nothing more than plonking a beautiful perennial into place and knowing that it’ll bring food, forage and utility for the next five years, and barely require me to lift a finger in the process.
So, here’s a collection of some butterfly friendly perennials to find space for in your garden this year, if you’re looking to lend a hand to our floaty friends.
- Buddleja (Butterfly Bush)
Okay, I guess perennials aren’t for everyone.
Some of you (correction, the vast majority of you) will be a less lazy gardener than me. Maybe you like to switch things up from season to season, or don’t want the hassle of maintaining perennials over the years.
Well, then you’ve come to just the place.
Here’s a list of some super-butterfly friendly annual plants which you can use to support your local butterfly populations in their search for food, shelter and breeding grounds.
Create Butterfly Friendly Habitat
Where butterflies choose to lay their head down at night is a tricky question to answer, as the truth is – Just about anywhere.
To simplify our approach to creating a butterfly friendly garden however, we’ll focus on specific ‘Butterfly Houses’, whether purchased or DIY.
Essentially, a butterfly house is simply a means of providing shelter from the elements for your local butterfly populations.
They’ll inevitably lay their eggs on plants which will contain rich sources of food for the larvae once hatched, and spend the majority of their time out and about foraging.
So if we’re talking priorities – Planting the correct butterfly friendly flora is of much higher importance. But hey, even a butterfly needs to take a few minutes out of the rain now and again, put his or her feet up.. I assume.
DIY’ing yourself a butterfly house is a reasonably straightforward task to anybody familiar with basic woodwork. There are a range of designs available online, with sites like pinterest great for a shot of inspiration.
Alternatively, there are a ton of options to buy these days ranging from the quaint butterfly cottage to the glamorous butterfly equivalent to beverly hills mansions.
Whichever way you choose to go, place your butterfly house in a nicely sheltered, sunny location, around four foot off the ground.
Next, place a sponge soaked in sugar-water onto a dish and leave it inside. Check it every now and again for signs of other wildlife taking over, and change the dish out as you see fit.
It’s as easy as that. You’ll be sure to see butterfly activity in no time.
Avoid Using Pesticides & Herbicides
Looking to up your Organic Gardening Game? Check out our article on Attracting Ladybirds and all the wonderful organic pest-control abilities they bring along to the party.
So this is a pretty straightforward one.
Our society’s rampant overuse of both pesticides and herbicides has no doubt played a massive part in the destruction of our natural environment.
Species everywhere – both flora and fauna – are struggling to maintain their numbers, with many unfortunately having passed into extinction over the last century or so.
However! What you do on your land is at the end of the day, your choice. Sure, finding ways to keep your crops healthy without the use of the above mentioned chemicals can be a challenge.
But there are plenty of natural options out there which work just as well with a little foresight and planning. Take a look at our Companion Planting article or Guide to Attracting Ladybirds for a jump start on organic garden pest & disease management.
If you feel the need to use sprays of some sort however, there are plenty of Organic Alternatives available, each with a far lower negative impact on the surrounding environment.
Little changes like these may not feel like a huge deal, but when we start adopting them on a macro scale it can snowball into hugely positive outcomes.
Endangered Butterflies By Region
As a quick foreword – The butterflies listed below are by no means an exhaustive list of all endangered, critically endangered and vulnerable species currently under review.
Unfortunately (next stop bummers-ville, I’m afraid) that list is simply far too long to include within this article.
We will however leave links under each region’s list if you’d like a more exhaustive look at just how many species are currently under threat in your particular part of the world.
You’ll probably also notice that only select regions have been focused on for this particular list.
Again, this is simply down to the sheer amount of species out there currently requiring attention, and our need to keep this article below the length of your average novel!
If your locale isn’t included here, thanks for your understanding.
With all of that said, here’s a quick snapshot of some of the most critically endangered butterfly species around the world, with a little background included with each wherever possible.
UK & Europe
Large Blue ButterflyFood Plant – Wild Thyme
- A highly endangered butterfly worldwide, the Large Blue has quite recently been reintroduced to the Uk as a part of an EU-wide conservation project. Both the rarest and largest of the blue butterflies, the Large Blue is easily identifiable by the distinctive black spots found on its forewing. Has a wonderfully unique lifespan which involves spending the majority of its time foraging within the nests of red ants. A real spectacle of a butterfly which is currently in a desperate fight for survival.
High Brown Fritillary ButterflyFood Plant – Common Dog-violet
- Highly dependent on violet blooming flora, the High Brown Fritillary is among the most endangered butterflies native to the Uk. It’s particularly large, with beautifully bright colouring. Count yourself lucky if you manage to spot this beauty out and about running its errands.
Chequered Skipper ButterflyFood Plant – Purple Moor-grass / False Brome
- Only known to survive in Scotland these days in any real numbers. Numerous reintroduction projects attempted across other Uk locations have so far failed to show any real signs of taking hold, however hope remains for the future. Currently, this rare chequered sighting certainly remains firmly in the endangered category.
Wood White ButterflyFood Plant – Meadow Vetchling / Tufted Vetch / Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil
- Known to still survive in small populations scattered across the British Isles, this delightfully dainty endangered butterfly is known for its delicate, meandering way of flying. Can be distinguished from otherwise deceptively similar ‘Whites’ through its rounded wing profile.
White-letter Hairstreak ButterflyFood Plant – Elm
- A native species predominantly found within the canopies of Yew trees. This beautiful endangered butterfly can be identified by the unique ‘W’ markings spanning its wings. Shrinking habitat has led to a steady decline into its now endangered status.
Madeiran Large White ButterflyFood Plant – N/a
- Native to the Laurisilva Laurel Forests of Madeira, this dazzling butterfly has unfortunately not been sighted in decades, and is thought to possibly now be completely extinct. Loss of habitat paired with the introduction of competitive foreign species is said to be the cause for this once plentiful species’ decline into (as a best case scenario) critical endangerment, or possibly complete extinction.
Macedonian Grayling ButterflyFood Plant – Marjoram / Heather / Thistle
- Found uniquely within a tiny area of Macedonia, the Macedonian Grayling has been pushed into critical endangerment predominantly through extensive loss of habitat, as a result of local quarrying activities. Work is underway to restore islands of habitat amongst these quarries, with the hope being to stabilise and increase this endangered butterflies’ dwindling numbers.
Danube Clouded Yellow ButterflyFood Plant – Chamaecytisus (Legume Family)
- Once common along the Danube river, this spectacularly coloured bright yellow butterfly has become increasingly rare over the year, with its small remaining populations now found only at the Romanian end of the river. An endangered butterfly placed high up the list of European conservationists efforts, work is underway to secure and improve upon the unique habitat this butterfly requires, with the hope that it may rebound in the years to come.
Karner Blue ButterflyFood Plant – Wild Lupine
- A truly beautiful species native to a number of Central / Eastern US states, the Karner Blue’s numbers have plummeted in line with the presence of wild-lupine across their traditional habitat. As is often the case with endangered butterflies, the Karner Blue’s life cycle unfortunately relies almost solely on the presence of this once common plant. As its presence in the environment has diminished, so has the Karner Blue’s ability to sustain its population levels.
Saint Francis Satyr ButterflyFood Plant – Varioius Grasses
- This small brown species thrives on disturbed environments. Once, this meant that the Saint Francis thrived amongst the grasslands of North Carolina, which were regularly disturbed by both fires and native beaver populations. Since the decline in both of these external variables, the few remaining Saint Francis populations are now known to live amongst military testing sites.
Callippe Silverspot ButterflyFood Plant – Yellow Pansy
- An endangered butterfly with a particularly large wingspan, the few remaining populations of Callippe Silverspot have been identified clustered around the San Francisco area. Habitat loss has led to a rapid decline in their numbers, with this eye-catching species now struggling to even maintain its current meager numbers.
Palos Verdes Blue ButterflyFood Plant – Locoweed / Common Deerwood
- Only one small population of this stunningly beautiful butterfly remains – nestled amongst the slopes of the Palos Verdes peninsula – This could truly be the rarest known species of butterfly in the world right now. Extensive conservation work is currently underway in an attempt to preserve this wonderful specimen, however numbers remain critically low, hovering at around 300 individuals at last confirmed count.
Miami Blue ButterflyFood Plant – Nickerbean / Acacia
- Native to the coastal regions of southern Florida, this endangered butterfly survives mainly on native plants found within the pea family. Loss of habitat and forage led to its inclusion amongst the list of critically endangered US species, however a recent breeding program has shown signs of progress towards rebuilding its once plentiful populations.
Carson Wandering SkipperFood Plant – N/a
- Also known as the Alkali skipper, this dainty species is known to be native to regions of Northern California and Nevada. Having been listed as an endangered butterfly species for almost twenty years now, the Alkali skippers dwindling numbers face a number of challenges in their attempts to rebound. Habitat degradation, isolation due to urban development and overuse of pesticides paint a common picture of human activities placing these beautiful creatures on life-support.
Oregon SilverspotFood Plant – N/a
- Once native to large swathes of the West Coast, the shrinking regions of suitable habitat has led to a steady decline in their numbers throughout the end of the 20th century. Now listed as a critically endangered butterfly by US conservation groups, work is currently underway to restore their unique coastal habitat, in a hope that their numbers may still rebound.
Schaus SwallowtailFood Plant – Guava / Wild Coffee
- Native now only to specific regions of Florida & Cuba, this endangered butterfly evolved within a specific form of canopy known as a ‘Hardwood Hammock’, a unique mix of hardwood trees which form a dense, tight canopy. The gradual destruction of this unique habitat has -unsurprisingly – greatly impacted the Schaus Swallowtail’s numbers, which are now considered critically endangered.
Full List of Endangered Butterflies: US
Benefits of Attracting Butterflies
Outside of the fact that they’re beautiful and brighten up your day? Well, perhaps surprisingly – They’re actually very efficient pollinators.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent to anybody paying attention that monocultures are horrific for the natural environment.
Diversity is the name of the game, and that applies to your pollination requirements as much as it does the flora requiring pollinating.
For us, we’ve got a couple of small mixed, polyculture orchards. We house honey bees within the orchards partly for pollination purposes, however, the numerous other bees, butterflies and miscellaneous pollinators are just important to maintaining the overall health of our system as are the honey bees and their pollinating abilities.
So, I guess to summarise – They’ll pollinate your plants, maintain a healthy, diverse ecosystem and lastly, brighten your day simply by passing through.
Not a bad deal for planting a few beautiful plants, laying off the pesticides and perhaps putting up a butterfly house or two I’d say.
Not a bad deal at all.
Some of our favourite reading for those interested in the wonderful world of butterflies.
- The World Encyclopedia of Butterflies & Moths: A Natural History and Identification Guide to Over 565 Varieties Around the Globe
- Britain’s Butterflies: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland – Fully Revised and Updated Third Edition
So there we have it, all you’ll ever need to know to get started on your journey towards supporting your locally pressurised butterfly populations.
Small actions add up to big positive effects overtime. A perennial plant here, a butterfly house there – Years later who can say how many individuals survived because of your small actions.
And as an aside, you get to enjoy their multicoloured prancing through your garden in the meantime, as well as the wonderfully fragrant, colourful plants they need to survive.
Not a bad deal at all.
Anyhoo, as always thanks for reading, I hope this little guide has been of use to you.
Please feel free to subscribe below to our newsletter to be kept in the loop of whatever comes next from us here at the EcoGeeks.
Have a great day and happy endangered butterfly heroism to you all.