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  • A Fascinating Butterfly Ritual - Male Mud Puddling

    Male butterflies enjoy the rituals of 'puddling' and "mud puddling." It seems to be a ritual that gets them in the mood for mating. I've seen this phenomenon only one or two seasons in a dozen years. I live in a city now, and a lot of these nature things i used to see, are not available to me anymore. Quite depressing.

    You'll know it when you see it. 
    Butterflies gathering and fluttering on the ground isn't a familiar sight. I thought some poison or pollutant was killing them. off. And they were so intent on doing what they were doing, i was able to go inside, get the camera, and come back out without distracting them. They totally ignored me as i took photographs. 

    I had just begun to observe this type of butterfly behavior in spring and summer, and at first i couldn't figure out why so many butterflies seemed to be hanging out right on the ground, very intent on doing whatever they were doing and i had no idea what that might be. It's not that I can tell the sex of butterflies, either. They let me photograph them up close, they weren't planning on moving along anytime soon.

    I eventually looked up butterfly behavior and found out what the ritual was about.

    I've had them "puddling" right on top of damp compost or yard debris left to compost, even in the dogs' areas where their wastes might be, and on wet leafy piles. i don't rake leaves and there is a constant sourch of organic materials in the garden.


    As i understand it, the males congregate in rain and mud puddles, they derive minerals from mud and debris that apparently increases the sex drive and encourages breeding. Mud Puddle Natural Male Enhancement for butterflies.

    The one thing i have noticed about butterfly behavior - they're either very brave or way too trusting. Besides ladybugs, there are one of the very few insects that will let you get close. i've gotten close enough to touch their wings and they allowed it. I have stood within butterfly bushes and taken lots of macro photographs from inches away, not using telephoto - they go about their business being butterflies. Incredibly reliable photo ops.

    Butterflies also like rain water puddles. I have a Rain Garden and i'm planning a bog garden that allows them to puddle and gather on the butterfly attracting plants and shrubs, as well as on the rocks. That garden's design naturally creates, in effect, a large mud or water puddling playground in certain spots dug out deeper than others. There are flowers and decorative grasses, as well, to protect them from predators and pollution, and to lay eggs upon. 

    Males form their cliques and gather in shallow wet areas, like those formed on paths, sidewalks and driveways . Butterfly puddling areas can be made easily. One way is burying a plastic or rust-proof metal shallow container or weatherproof 4" planter up to the rim, filling it with gravel or untreated sandbox sand, and then pour in liquids. These liquids can also serve as food. You can add sweet drinks, sugar water or plain water I use plain muddy water. I use separate bowls and baskets to hold their meals. I do keep my eyes open for rodents, squirrels and other vermin.
    In my opinion, butterfly puddle containers should lie flat on the ground or just an inch or two higher than the ground (careful to place those sitting a little over the ground so that you don't trip over them while wandering your garden. (Been there.), and as gross as it might sound - the gathering or puddling i've seen is often more intense where my dogs left landmines that were now dried up. Makes me think that the stuff is not only good to fertilize your shrubs, but also helps with your butterfly gardening and creating these puddles. I lived in the country, no picking it up was required. It's free fertilizer. By the time it's dry, it loses it's odor. 

    The trusting nature of the butterflies will allow for hours of photographic opportunities between the plants and the feeding areas. And yes, you can throw compost or manure of any type into the puddling area - a little bit is fine. Some folks (fishermen, don't discard those yucky parts after you clean fish) throw them in the freezer to keep for this purpose. Take some out and defrost, then leave somewhere like a garage in a container, or where bugs can't get at them and let them get kinda aged and smelly. cut into tiny pieces, and add this to your puddling container.

    Butterflies will be attracted to any shallow standing water and wet edges of the woods or ponds - but i've see them very frequently on compost and waste in groups of 4 or more. When puddling, they seem to just be hanging out eating/drinking and i have seen them hang out in one place for hours.

    I believe that you add a little salt - a pinch, since that mineral seems to be what gets the males in a romantic mood and ready to reproduce. I'm a big fan of epsom salts and i wonder whether that's safe for this use- seems safe for us to ingest it, so a little bit might not harm. And it would do good for the rest of the landscape, But i don't really know for sure.

    The puddling containers can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. the easiest is just use a shallow pottery pot or bowl, "plant" the bowl into the ground, fill with gravel, chemical free sandbox sand, add water just to make them very damp with a thin later of water over it, but not full of too much water. If adding fruit or other treats, you can add more water if some is displaced. I would be careful, though, if i lived in an area frequented by cats and rodents. I have an enclosed butterfly garden.

    You can also create the containers and lay them here and there in nooks in your garden. it can be part of your wildlife habitat or wildflower planting areas. Just let mother nature fill up the containers when it rains if you don't have time to wander around adding water.

    i will be setting up the very simple puddling containers and decorating around them with pea gravel or river rock, perhaps some flat broken but not sharp pieces of terracotta pots or tiles. then add my river glass and sea shell collection for them to hang out on - butterflies love basking in the sun! Another behavior that lasts long enough to take as many photos as you like if you don't startle them. 

    Having puddling containers helps to keep many butterflies in your garden. If they can find a source of food and water, safe havens for their behaviors and cycles, many butterfies will take up residence or return to it. Butterflies seem to be very loyal to the best digs in town.

    Another idea for a puddling dish can be the larger pottery bottom dishes of the inexpensive terra cotta planters. there are shallow pottery bowls easy to find at flea markets, and in garden centers for bonsai planting. If you live in an area that freezes hard for the winter, clean out these puddling containers and store until early spring so that standing water doesn't ice over and break the pottery dishes.

    Attracting and Feeding Adults and Larvae

    Butterfly garden host plants are where the butterflies prefer to lay their eggs. They are chosen because of what the larvae, or caterpillars, eat after hatching. Obviously, these plants will be chewed up by the larvae, and might do better at the back of the garden or hidden behind another tall plant. Plant butterfly milkweed, arabis, sweet rocket, black-eyed susan, purple coneflower, honesty, hollyhocks, sweet william, white and purple alyssum, cosmos, coreopsis, phlox, daisies, catnip, heliotrope, sea holly, asters, stocks, zinnias, yarrow, globe thistles, lavender, rosemary, thyme, stonecrops, sweet woodruff, candytuft, verbena and gaillardia.

    Shrubs/Trees - Butterfly bush, common lilac, mock orange, beauty bush, blackberry, potentilla, honeysuckle, hawthorn, weigela, sumac, rose of Sharon, spirea, privet and pussy willow. The Butterfly Bush is very hardy in both my zone 5 and zone 8 gardens, evergreen in zone 8, dies to the ground in zone 5. The plant is incredibly prolific - the southern garden needs thinning out every year and the plants are much sturdier than the same variety planted in zone 5. I can't think of a thing that can kill them. They don't care about too much water, too little water, no fertilizer needed. And it doesn't seem to get bugs.

    Buddleias are designated as Invasive species. And I do grow them responsibly.

    There are many beautiful plants listed as "invasive" - I admit that i am guilty of intentionally planting Buddleia - Butterfly Bushes -  to attact many types of butterflies and bees from spring through fall. I had seen photos of Butterfly bushes that have been accused of wandering from gardens to the sides  of roadways - they look gorgeous and are much more pollinator-friendly than the standard crownvetch or weeds that usually adorn the roadsides. There are now several varieties of "dwarf" butterfly bushes that are supposed to spread less or not at all. In my 20 plus years of planting and caring for butterfly bushes, not a single one has been known to wander out of well-defined and well-tended garden beds on their own. I wish they'd wander from front to backyard butterfly habitats and save me some time and money. 

    I'm not condoning planting invasives. I just believe that with proper care and pruning and removal of baby plants from where they shouldn't be, and not allowing plants to go to seed, invasiveness can be controlled. Any invasive plant can destroy the environment if left unchecked. The theory about butterfly bushes is that they are growing wild in forests and might over-run the butterfly's host plants. Again, I believe the home gardener can control this shrub with hard and ruthless pruning almost down the ground in the fall, and removing any "suckers" that might pop up and wander from the base of the plant. I have no issues with them spreading at all. I have also started to grow what is determined to be "invasive" in containers and control their growth. Best of Both Worlds. The plants are beautiful and feed the pollinators. They just need some discipline and a designated area to grow in. I've been successful with Wisteria, honeysuckle, milkweed and ornamental grasses.

    Butterfly Feeding and "Puddling"
     8/23/08 updated
    photos  and articles©2020 Mary Hyland
    All rights reserved

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