Often butterflies are seen congregating on wet substances such as puddles, dung or carrion. The saepiolus blues (Plebejus saepiolus) that I mentioned yesterday were aggregated on wet soil in a depression in a meadow near Ash Creek (Lassen County CA). This behavior is known as puddling.
Butterflies cannot get all the trace minerals, salts and amino acids they need from nectar. So to supplement their diet they will drink from puddles of water in which minerals and other nutrients are dissolved. Puddles near dung are often favored since these water sources may have higher concentrations of necessary nutrients. Certain butterflies will also go after sweat, blood or tears from humans or other animals to obtain needed salts.
Male butterflies puddle much more frequently than females. It is believed that the males require the dissolved puddle nutrients for the production of pheromones (chemicals used by the male to attract females) and for the production of sperm. The male also transfers these nutrients to the female with the sperm, enhancing the survival rate of the eggs.
Butterfly enthusiasts often create puddles to attract these beautiful insects. Take a shallow container such as a pie pan. It can be buried level with the surface of the ground or laid on top of the ground. Fill the container with dirt or sand and level the surface. Since butterflies can be sensitive to chemicals it is better to use soil that is not enhanced with fertilizers (i.e. commercial potting soil). A few small flat rocks can be added to the surface to provide a landing spot for the butterflies. Add water until the substrate is wet and the consistency of pudding, but do not allow excess standing water. Keep the surface moist and the “puddle” should attract butterflies.
We have a faucet in the yard that we allow to drip very slowly into a bucket in the summer. Its purpose is to provide water for our outdoor cats. The ground around the bucket is always moist. Butterflies congregate and puddle on the ground around the cats’ water. What an added bonus!
Try creating a butterfly puddle. Not only will it bring beautiful butterflies to your yard, it will help these lovely insects get the nutrients they need.