Butterfly FAQ

Why don’t I see as many butterflies as I used to?
The two primary causes for the overall decline of butterflies and pollinators is habitat loss and the increased use of pesticides.

How can we help the butterflies?
We can help butterflies and all pollinators by creating backyards habitats/way stations and using a mixture of native, pollinator friendly plants that bloom from spring through fall; reducing or eliminating pesticide use; and providing clean water.

Where do butterflies go in the winter?
That depends on the species of butterfly: some like the eastern tiger swallowtail will overwinter here in Kentucky, others like the gulf fritillary will migrate South to the Gulf Coast States.The Monarch butterfly migrates over 2500 miles to southern Mexico.

How does the caterpillar turn into a butterfly?
First, the caterpillar digests itself by releasing enzymes that dissolve most of its tissues, but some organs stay intact. Then the fluids start to reform into a butterfly and by the end of metamorphosis, a complete, adult butterfly is formed.

How can I get butterflies to land on me?
Most butterflies generally flutter about kind of blunder into you at some stage, you don’t need to do much to attract them. Wearing clothes with bright colors such as yellow, red, and white may possibly attract them to you. Just be gentle, move slowly when they are near and maybe they’ll land on you!

How long does a butterfly live?
How long butterflies live depends on many things and varies greatly. It depends on the size of the butterfly, the species of the butterfly, where it lives, and what time of year it became an adult. Most butterflies typically only live for a few weeks, but the Monarch butterfly is very unique as the last generation that emerges from their chrysalis in September will live for up to nine months as they migrate back to Mexico!

What are the stages of the butterflies life cycle?
Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis.
The stages of that life cycle are: egg, caterpillar, pupa, adult

What do caterpillars eat?
Caterpillars have chewing mouthparts like scissors that allow them to feed on the leaves of plants.

What do butterflies eat?
After going through metamorphosis, butterflies have a mouth like a coiled straw called a proboscis. They can only eat liquid nectar from flowers!

How many types of butterflies are there?
Worldwide, there are about 18,000 species of butterflies, with about 750 species in the United States.

What is a host plant?
The plants that caterpillars eat are called host plants. Each species of butterflies has specific host plants on which the adult butterflies lay their eggs. The butterflies are particular about where they lay eggs because their caterpillars must have that distinct host plant to survive. The caterpillar will not eat if it does not have access to one of its specific host plants and will die. Some caterpillars are so picky that there is only one plant type that will support them. Many caterpillars will eat from more than one plant type.

What is a nectar plant?
The plants that adult butterflies eat (actually they “drink” nectar from the flowers) are called nectar plants.

What happens to the butterflies after the exhibit ends?
Because our butterflies are native, many will be released during our Flutter Fest event which  coincides with the annual migration of monarch butterflies.

A few of our native species (like mourning cloaks) will find a sheltered place to cluster and hibernate over the winter. It all depends on species, but the three main ways butterflies handle the winter season are: hibernation, diapause as chrysalids, or migration to warmer climates.

Butterflies still in chrysalid state as the days shorten and temperatures fall will end the season as a chrysalis and overwinter to emerge as a butterfly the following spring.

How often do flowers produce nectar? Why is there fruit in the exhibit?
Flowers typically stop producing nectar after they have been successfully pollinated and the flower then shifts to producing fertile seeds. Fortunately, flowers are constantly being replaced by the plant during the growing season. We also supplement the butterflies’ diet with sliced fruit from which they draw sugar-rich fruit juices.

One of the butterflies got out of the exhibit! Is this ok?
YES! The butterflies within the exhibit are all Kentucky natives that will thrive in our local environment and our ecosystem. The outdoor garden near the butterfly exhibit is tailor-made to attract and support native butterflies. See more information here about our Monarch Waystation.