Britain's butterflies are in decline. But all is not lost, we can help butterflies thrive again by taking small steps that can make a big difference.
Butterflies go through four stages in their life cycle. But did you know that these different stages have different needs?
Most adult butterflies will lay their eggs on plants that will provide enough nourishment for an emerging caterpillar. So make sure you have food-rich plants, such as nettle, in your garden as well as the blossoming flowers.
Once the caterpillar has munched through enough food, it will become a chrysalis (pupa) and hang off the plant until spring, when it breaks free as a winged beauty. Plenty of nectar-rich and pollen-rich plants will keep it fluttering around your garden.
A spoonful of sugar
If you see a butterfly, or bee for that matter, that looks like it is in need of a drink or you have few flowers in the garden, you can provide a similar energy boost with a simple sugar-water mix. Using equal amounts of sugar and water, dissolve in a pan and leave to cool. Then soak a small sponge in the liquid and place in a bowl in the garden. Alternatively you can create a very shallow puddle plate of sugar-water but make sure there are pebbles around the edge so insects can keep dry whilst they dip their tongues in!
All aflutter indoors
Most people will have seen butterflies in their homes during winter months, particularly once the central heating is on. This happens because the insects have become confused about what season it is.
Those butterflies that lie dormant as adults begin looking for dry places to seek shelter in the early autumn, when our homes are still typically cool. They mistake our rooms and porches for somewhere suitable to rest. However, when we turn up the heat to keep warm, they assume spring is here and wake up looking for food. Unfortunately, this can prove fatal - the lack of nectar-filled flowers causes them to waste energy while flying around to search for a way out.
If possible, it’s best not to move any butterflies you find lying dormant in your home, but if they wake up too early, you can coax them back to sleep in a quiet, cooler location
If your butterfly is already moving around, it's best to try to calm it down again so it will re-enter dormancy. Gently catch it in a shoe box or something similar with ventilation holes, put the lid on and then put the box in a cool, dark place for an hour or so. The butterfly should then slow again, but it will still be too cold outside to simply release in the hope that it finds a place to hide. Instead, place the box somewhere sheltered and dry like a shed and leave a slight vertical opening. Better still, gently transfer the butterfly to a dedicated butterfly house which has entrance slits already in the design, where it will have the shelter it needs for the rest of the winter and also a means of escape come spring.
If the curious ones in your house want to see the life cycle at first hand, then our Indoor Butterfly Garden is perfect. Not only do you get to watch the caterpillars go through chrysalis to butterflies, but you can feed them for a few days as adults to really appreciate their intricate anatomy - Just remember to release them afterwards to fly free.