Aug 20, 2021 | Featured Web Article

Butterflies Need Water, Too!

An example of butterflies "puddling," or collecting near a water source and sipping at the moisture.

Recently I ran across a butterfly water dish at a store, and it occurred to me that if such a thing exists, then butterflies must need water, too. But I also couldn't recall ever having seen a butterfly stop by my bird bath. A little research, and I learned that butterflies require much shallower water dishes than birds, but it's also not as simple as setting out a shallow dish filled with water for them either.

You may have seen butterflies doing something called "puddling," in which they gather at a puddle and sip the water. In addition to hydrating themselves, they are also attracted to salt and other minerals in the water from the soil. You can easily provide these minerals in your own butterfly puddler as well.

First, if you don't want to purchase a butterfly-specific water dish (which are sold at many different outlets in a variety of beautiful designs), all you really need is a shallow dish, such as a large clay or plastic flowerpot saucer. Then fill the container with sand, all the way to the top. Add a small amount of soil or a pinch of salt and mix it in with the sand to provide the minerals the butterflies are seeking. Create a slight indentation in the middle of the sand and add water to the recess. Replace the water as needed. Do not allow water to pool up too much, as it will attract mosquitoes. You want the water to evaporate regularly, while keeping the sand moist.

By keeping your butterfly dish in one consistent area, preferably in full sun near colorful, nectar-rich plants, butterflies will keep coming back to a reliable water source. Puddling is most common in the warmest months, during the warmest part of the day.

How exactly do butterflies drink water since they do not have mouths? They use a proboscis, which is a strawlike tube capable of probing deep into a flower to suck nectar and also to draw in water. You can see the proboscis coiled up under a butterfly's head when it's not in use.

A monarch butterfly visits a zinnea flower and absorbs nectar through a proboscis. Photo by Shutterstock.

About Jessica Vaughan

Jessica Vaughan is Assistant Editor for Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She is the mother of four young birders and lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021
  • This breaks my heart. God strengthen your spirit and comfort your heart.I am fortunate to be taking a vacation next month, hopefully before sky high inflation hits and I can no longer afford it.
    by Ironweeds, Fri, 27 Aug 2021