How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Habitat loss, climate change and pesticide use have decreased butterfly populations.

Unbeknownst to many butterflies do not live on nectar alone, some species prefer, even require, overripe fruit to feed on. Decaying fruits have carbohydrates and minerals, necessary to most butterflies. Supply them with flowers, fruit, water and plants for their caterpillar stage, and you will hopefully have a large and happy, diverse population.

Best Food for Butterflies

butterfly feeder

Watermelon turns rather rapidly, feeding overripe fruit to butterflies, seems like a perfect purpose for it. There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. About 725 species can be found in North America/north of Mexico, approximately 2000 species in Mexico, 3500 in Peru, 275 species in Canada and 440 in Europe. Photo by Toshio, Flickr.

butterflies on an orange

Fruit dehydrates and seals up, therefore slices need to be cut into the fruit daily, making more juice available. A Blue Morpho drinking banana juice at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

butterfly feeder

Watermelon on a stick. Monarchs can live up to nine months. Monarch larvae only eat milkweed, see bottom of page. Photo by Maggie Rattay, Flickr.

butterfly feeder

Making cuts across the fruit allows more juice to be available. This picture was found on Visit Gainesville.

butterfly feeder

Fruit salad for butterflies. Photo by Charley Chrizzy, originally found at Charley Chrizzy has since de-activated their account.

If you want to be up close and personal with the butterflies, without harming them, try soaking a clean painting sponge with butterfly food. The hardest part is waiting for them to come!

butterfly feeder

A butterfly enjoying a dragon fruit. More photos of butterflies can be found on HubPages.

butterfly feeder

Many species seem to love watermelon. Unlike bees, butterflies can see the color red. This photo can be found at the faq.gardenweb on Houzz.

butterfly feeder

A Question Mark butterfly eating kiwi in a saucer set on a post. The insidestorey.blogspot has more pictures of the visitors that came to this home, including a Black Swallowtail.

A stunning blue butterfly eating an orange at this garden. This particular feeding area has pictures of flowers on the surface to help the butterflies find the feeding tubes.

butterfly feeder

Water, minerals, and taste. Photo by Santa Barbarian, Flickr.

butterfly feeder

Butterflies love red, orange, purple, and yellow. Butterflies have good color vision, sensing more “wavelengths” than either humans or bees.

Butterflies are particularly fond of oranges, grapefruits, cantelope, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, kiwi, apples, watermelon, and bananas, especially mushy bananas that have been stored in the freezer and then thawed. Some species love a “brew” of rotting fruit, molasses, beer, and brown sugar. Some like moist mushroom compost.

Hummingbirds and some species of butterfly like simple sugar syrup: mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, boil mixture just untill the sugar dissolves, then be sure to allow the sugar mixture to cool before feeding butterflies. Adding soy sauce gives a dose of minerals and salt. Do not feed butterflies this sugar mix or honey during very cold or very dry weather as the sugar could re-crystallize inside them before being digested. Fructose is the safest bet for those times as it does not crystallize. A recipe: Lots of recipes here: faq.gardenweb, although I question the long term effects of the food coloring in the Gatorade that so many people have success with.

Flowers with Nectar that Butterflies Enjoy (partial list)

Aster, Borage, Butterfly Bush, Calendula, Cosmos, Delphinium, Lilac, Lupines, Sweet Alyssum, Verbena, Yarrow, Zinnias. See the Pollinator Planting Guide:

Remember Monarch larvae only eat milkweed

Plant some milkweed in your garden, and don’t pick off the caterpillars! ‘Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures, and roadsides. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations.’ Spraying Round-Up and herbicides on roadsides reduces monarch populations. More information can be found at Monarch Watch.

Milkweed Seed

Black Swallowtail larvae eat the leaves of dill, parsley, carrot, and fennel. Painted lady larvae eat thistle leaves.

Make A Successful Butterfly Feeder

butterfly feeder

Putting a plate inside a larger plate or saucer that is filled with water will keep ants away from the fruit. Butterflies have a good sense of smell, they have scent receptors at the ends of their antennas, and taste receptors on the bottoms of their feet. This photo can be seen at 8 WGAL.


Make your own or purchase a butterfly feeder. Originally found for $25 at

butterfly feeder

To attract butterflies add neon pink, red, and orange plastic scrubbers to your plate or bowl. Butterflies are restricted to an all-liquid diet due to their straw-like proboscis. Photo by Leskra: Panoramio.

These butterflies are wasting no time to drink from these orange slices. The sign behind them is a great reminder to be gentle with these delicate beauties.

butterfly feeder

Painting flowers on a tray helps the butterflies locate the fruit. This picture features a portion of the Munich Botanical Gardens from hollyopnshk.blogspot.

Increase your chances of the butterflies finding their offering by having flowers close by, or paint or tape colorful flowers (real or fake) to the plate or hanging apparatus. To hang, cut three holes in a saucer, string with wire or chain and hang.

Mud Puddles

Male Butterflies need extra minerals and enjoy mud puddles. The extra sodium and amino acids are transferred to the female along with the spermatophore during mating. This nutrition enhances the survival rate of the eggs. The minerals also help in the production of pheromones which attract females. To make butterfly puddles, bury a container and then fill with sand or gravel. Fill with water, a sweet drink or stale beer.

At night and during wet weather, butterflies take shelter underneath leaves, among grass blades, or in a crevice of a rock.

How Butterflies Eat

butterfly feeder

When not in use, butterflies keep their proboscis coiled up, then unfurl it to suck up nectar, pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, or other foods that are in a liquid state. The proboscis is discussed further in the article by AskNature, where this photograph was found.

butterfly feeder

When unwound their proboscis acts as a straw. A Purple Duke extends its proboscis deep into the fruit of the Singapore Rhododendron. At Butterflies Of Singapore you can discover more about the relationship between the butterflies and the Singapore Rhododendron.

butterfly feeder

Close-Up of a butterfly’s proboscis (coiled straw) coated with pollen. Due to their long legs, nectar eating butterflies pick up only small amounts of pollen on their visits to flowers. Many moths are actually better pollinators than butterflies. Photo by Melissa, Flickr.

butterfly feeder

Due to the butterflies’ fragility to ecological change, they are an excellent indicator of an ecosystem’s health. Malachite butterflies feeding at a butterfly farm in Germany, photo by Andreas Adelmann, Flickr.


Two Tailed Pasha drinking from an orange. Photo by Forbe5, Flickr.

butterfly feeder

Butterflies taste with their feet. A Black Swallowtail drinking watermelon juice. More pictures of butterflies can be found at Inside Storey.


Because butterflies are cold blooded, they cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees, so keep the fruit in the sun and out of strong winds. If your thinking about adding flowers to attract butterflies, Buena Vista Butterfly Farm has a great list of plants that you can look at.

Written by Keiren

Keiren is an artist who lives in New York City. A lover of animals, nature, science & green building. Keiren originally founded Inspiration Green in 2007, which merged with Insteading in 2016.


Leave a Reply
  1. Great article and I will be feeding butterflies this Spring! They are so pretty and I have a new camera to take pics of them and other wildlife, I hope. Your pictures are wonderful!!! I am wondering if frozen watermelon would give the same nutrition to them. I have some in my freezer that I use for slushies, but will be happy to share with the butterflies 🙂

  2. Hello. Thank you for this wonderful site!!! I have put out a feeder and fruit as you recommended and, so far, no butterflies. Please advise me how long it takes, on average, to attract the little guys. Thanks again

  3. This is the best butterfly site I’ve ever found!! Just today I found a tawny emperor that (it looks perfectly fine,no missing dust,or crumpled wings) can’t fly,and I put it in a clear container with a flower,papertowel,dirt and grass. And,reading your site, cantaloupe! It had some,but didn’t take a good liking to it. All it does is sit at the top of the paper towel,probably wishing it was free…also, he is a sticky lil devil! I can never get him to get onto the flower…he must like my hands! 🙂

  4. My family and I got some butterflies this summer and when they hatched, we decided to get some fruit. Oranges was the first thing we looked for (in our house) and we couldn’t find any. Since I looked up this site, I found out we can feed them apples, kiwis, and bananas! Thanks! 🙂

  5. What a beautiful idea!! We don’t have that many butterflies where I live unfortunately, populations are on a steady decline, but every little bit helps right? Thank you for sharing.

  6. Bonjour, I’m a butterflies lover from Switzerland. I really love your website about all your help and discover different worldwide butterflies. Thanks so much/merci beaucoup.

  7. Hi, I would love to sit out my old fruit to attract butterflies but is there a way to do it without attracting more bees?


    • Cheryl,

      If your fruit attracts the bees, too, then be thankful as they are having such a difficult time right now. I provide bee blossoms in my yard during the summer… just for the bees. Coral Vine is their most favorite plant in my yard.

      I dedicated my yard to butterflies, hummers, and bees… planting for all as some flowers overlap attracting more than just one. While my yard did not have one tree in it, I’m not planting only things that will bring them in. Can’t wait for next Spring so I can enjoy the blooms and fragrance and all the wings in my yard.

  8. Thanks for sharing this link, I do interest to do the same way to prepare slice of fruits so I am wishing butterflies are coming to eat it. I do love to see butterflies and will take pics of them, n will take pics of them to and share of facebook and Flicker.

    Have a good day n night,


  9. I’m concerned about the orange slices getting covered by bugs and moths instead of feeding butterflies and birds. Is that a possibility? Is there a way to prevent it from happening?

  10. i was wodnering does anyone know if butterflies can eat or lick the kiwi juice?

    please let me know as i have given them kiwi.


  11. I have this butterfly and I don’t know what kind of butterfly it is and I do not know what it eats please comment back on this page

  12. Cool photos!

    Few advices about butterfly food and drinks (it was helpful for me):

  13. “cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees”

    What keeps the body temp of
    flying butterflies above 85
    in 60 degree ambient temp?
    If it is the flying that generates a
    26 degree differential,
    then they better not land.

  14. Amazing photos! I see one of them came from the butterfly observatory in Niagara Falls. I’ve only made that trek once but it was well worth the trip 🙂

  15. Thnx a lot for sharing information so beautifully ….loved it , will be feeding butterflies as I loved seeing them .

    I love nature, animals, flowers, butterflies, hummingbirds. I don’t read a lot about all these topics but I enjoyed what you wrote about the butterflies, I couldn’t stop reading it and found it to be simple readung, understandable, I can’t wait to try some of these things because I want butterflies around my yard and we did have many hummingbirds but not this year. Just wanted to thank you for the information you wrote.

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