Burke County Backyard Butterflies

— Written By Taylor Campbell and last updated by
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Summer is in full swing and with that comes an increase in insects. According to North Carolina State University, there are over 175 species of butterflies native to the state. Butterflies add beauty and biodiversity to the landscape. Many people enjoy watching butterflies and identifying them. Butterflies’ most important role is pollination. Pollination is the vital process that promotes beautiful flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

Butterflies, and moths, come from the insect order Lepidoptera. North Carolina butterflies make up the following families:

●      Papilionidae, or swallowtails

●      Pieridae, or sulphurs, whites, and yellows

●      Lycaenidae, or gossamer-wings

●      Nymphalidae, or brush-footed butterflies including the Monarch butterfly

●      Hesperiidae, or skippers

There are dozens of species within these families in North Carolina alone. In fact, the state butterfly of North Carolina is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. This beautiful butterfly has large yellow and black striped wings with blue iridescence. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is unmistakable and quite unforgettable!

Planting for Pollinators:

The main strategy is to plant more native plants. Burke County’s USDA Hardiness Zones range from 6b to 7b. Here are some noteworthy plants to attract pollinators in our area:
Table with butterfly attracting plants

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is intended to serve as a jumping-off point. To search for plants, visit North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

Creating a Habitat:

Plants aren’t the only way to create a habitat for butterflies. Just like other living things, butterflies need food, water, and shelter. The plants themselves provide a food source. Let’s address water and shelter.

Provide a water source
Warmer days are ahead. You may notice yourself drinking more water or taking a dip in the pool or lake to cool off. Butterflies need to cool off and hydrate too! Provide a water source by filling a shallow dish with water. Put a stone in the water dish to provide a platform for the butterflies so they do not drown. For the more naturalistic gardener, create small mud puddles for butterflies. Swallowtails in particular enjoy a good mud puddle.

While it is tempting to clean up discarded leaves and blooms, leaving them on the ground provides shelter for our winged friends. Consider leaving sticks, fallen leaves, and other discarded plant tissues on the ground to allow butterflies to rest and lay eggs.

Things to Remember:

Because butterflies begin their lives as caterpillars, keep in mind that caterpillars may munch on leaves and blooms. While it may not be aesthetically pleasing, this means beautiful butterflies are on their way!

Also, butterflies are susceptible to pesticide injury. Always practice safe pesticide application.

Additional Resources:

Butterflies In Your Backyard

Common Butterflies of North Carolina

Protecting Pollinators While Using Pesticides

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail