Creating a Fruit Feeding Station for Butterflies (Learning Through Community)

Reader Contribution by Shannon Mach
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When I first began to plant my butterfly garden, I had no idea that butterflies enjoyed fruit – but not only do many of these winged-beauties like fruit – some actually prefer the fruit juice to flower nectar. Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta), Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis), Red Spotted Purples (Limenitis arthemis), Hackberry Emperors (Asterocampa celtis), Viceroys (Limenitis archippus), and Commas (Polygonia c-album) are just a few of the many species of butterflies who may frequent a backyard fruit feeder.

(Photo by Kelly Dean/with permission) Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

As the creator of Serendipity, I appreciate the active learning that occurs within a community of like-minded people; people who embrace the vision of developing backyard habitats. By sharing our ideas and photos – we continue to better understand how to best meet the needs of the butterflies and wildlife that visit our gardens. Providing fruit for butterflies has been an ongoing topic of discussion on Serendipity. Together, we have learned that butterfly fruit feeders do not need to be fancy; actually I recommend re-purposing common household items for this project. A terracotta saucer, a suet cage, a retired kitchen bowl, or even a charming bird feeder all work equally well.

(Photo by Kimberly Vensel/with permission) Pair of Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis)

So how do butterflies eat fruit?  We have tongues with taste buds; butterflies do not. Instead they have taste receptors on their legs.  Butterflies often stand on a potential food source and their proboscis is unfurled when they find something tasty – like fruit. A butterfly will use its proboscis, a straw-like structure, to sip fruit juice – similar to how they draw nectar from a flower blossom.   


(Photo by Jim Smith/with permission) Red Admiral-Left (Vanessa atalanta)

Butterflies are not picky about their fruit – actually they prefer it over-ripe or rotting. Without doubt, watermelon definitely seems to be a butterfly fan favorite at backyard fruit buffets. Oranges, plums, nectarines, berries, applies, cantaloupe, and bananas all work well for attracting butterflies. Sometimes, local markets willingly offer bruised or over-ripe fruit for the taking – an excellent way to reduce waste while feeding the butterflies. Also, do not be surprised to see some competition at your backyard fruit station. According to Audubon, many types of birds also enjoy feasting on fruit offerings. Cedar Waxwings, Baltimore Orioles, and Northern Mockingbirds are a few examples of some of the feathered friends who may stop by for a snack. For this reason, I have placed a few fruit feeders throughout my backyard – we can never have too many winged visitors – butterflies or birds! 

(Photo by Ginie Abney Anthony/with permission) Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

(Photo by Ginie Abney Anthony/with permission) Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Another good idea is to use an old log with an indentation, or tree stump with a hollow in the center as a natural fruit feeder. With this in mind, I am including a recipe for making a fruit concoction.  I recommend mixing up the ingredients and then spreading the mix onto the log or stump – then sit back and wait for the butterflies, bees and pollinators to visit.

Recipe for Fruit Mixture  (The Butterfly Garden, by Matthew Tekulsky, 1985)  

1 pound of sugar
1 or 2 cans of stale beer
3 mashed over-ripe bananas
1 cup of molasses or syrup
1 can fruit juice
1 shot of rum

Shannon Mach believes residential backyards have the potential to support long-term conservation efforts. Her own garden is certified as a Monarch Waystation, a Wildlife Habitat, a Butterfly Garden, and a Pollinator Habitat. The philosophy of her Facebook group, Serendipity, is to create a place that feels like a nature walk with friends.

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