In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2012
Regional Report

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A flat rock amidst moist sand adjacent to a pond provides butterflies a place to bask and puddle.

Butterfly Basking and Puddling

Any successful wildlife habitat offers shelter, water, and food, preferably using native or mostly native plants. Two other essential elements can help you attract butterflies to your habitat. Butterflies need to "bask" and "puddle." If you make it easy for them to do so, they may hang around the landscape for your viewing pleasure.

You have likely seen butterflies with outstretched wings sunning on a rock or flat surface. Sometimes, their wings gently open and close at a mesmerizing pace. Well, who doesn't like to relax and catch a few rays from time to time? For butterflies, basking is essential. They must absorb heat from the sun to crank up their metabolism sufficiently to be able to fly.

Add a few flat natural rocks to your butterfly garden for basking. (No rocks? Use bricks or repurpose old chunks of concrete.) Try to situate them in sheltered spots out of the wind. If you can set them in a puddling area, all the better.

Butterflies need salts and minerals that they cannot obtain from flower nectar. They absorb these elements by sipping moisture from damp soil or mud puddles. This activity is called puddling and is typically performed by the male butterflies. It may take place in groups with a dozen or more fellas gathered around the watering hole. During mating, the males transfer these important elements to the females via sperm.

If you have a pond, it is relatively easy to create a flat, sandy puddling area adjacent to the water's edge where sand remains moist. Alternatively, sink a flat saucer (like a container base) or pot in the ground and fill it with moist sand. It should be level with the surrounding soil; don't create a pit that you might step into or trip over. Use a large saucer (at least 16 to 24 inches) so the sand does not dry out too quickly. Sinking it in the ground, as opposed to setting it on top, also reduces evaporation in arid climates.

Run a drip emitter to the saucer, or place it near a hose bib or rainwater harvesting area. Do whatever works for you so that it is simple to keep the sand consistently moist. Sprinkle a handful of compost over the top periodically to keep the salt and mineral content up.

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