Is it possible that butterflies are harmful to plants?\n\n\n\nThis seems like a silly question. \n\n\n\n\u201cHaven\u2019t you ever heard of butterfly gardens? Most gardeners\nwant to attract butterflies.\u201d\n\n\n\nThe idea that they could be harmful seems like pure\nnonsense.\n\n\n\nAnd yet, here I am, writing an article about it. So, there must be something more to this answer than a simple \u201cno.\u201d\n\n\n\nAre butterflies harmful to plants? Butterflies themselves are not harmful to plants. However, leaves on a plant may die in response to butterfly eggs being laid on them. At the same time, butterflies pollinate flowers and are an indication of overall healthy wildlife ecology.\n\n\n\nWhat Is A Butterfly?\n\n\n\nInside the order Lepidoptera, there are true butterflies, skippers, and moths. True butterflies and skippers are grouped together in the term butterflies because they both fly during the day and have similar antennae structures.\n\n\n\nAn adult butterfly is not harmful to plants. Butterflies\ndrink nectar, bask in the sun, and rest near puddles. These activities have no\nnegative effects on plant life.\n\n\n\nHowever, butterflies have four life stages. The adult stage\nis easy-going, but the three stages of childhood can be a little messy:\n\n\n\nEgg - Adult butterflies lay eggs on leaves and stems. Eggs are small, round, and stuck to a prime food source for caterpillars.\n\n\n\nLarva - Caterpillars are known for being destructive. Their whole purpose is to eat as much as possible to store energy for their metamorphosis.\n\n\n\nChrysalis - Caterpillars will attach themselves to firm surfaces to begin forming a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar is completely broken down, and built back up into an adult butterfly.\n\n\n\nCan Butterfly Eggs Harm Plants?\n\n\n\nSurprisingly, yes. A recent study\nobserved how plants in the Brassica family reacted to eggs deposited from the\ncabbage white butterfly. Butterflies lay eggs on plants that caterpillars will\neat, so it\u2019s no surprise that the cabbage white butterfly eggs will hatch into\ncabbage worms, who then eat cabbage and all its cousins.\n\n\n\nIn response, this study found that the plants would kill off the leaves where the eggs were laid. Eggs need some humidity to hatch, and a living leaf can help provide shade and moisture. A dead, dry leaf would greatly reduce the humidity surrounding the eggs and decrease the likelihood that the eggs would survive.\n\n\n\nThe plant\u2019s defense mechanisms had varying degrees of\nsuccess, with the most important factor being how clustered the eggs were. Tightly\nclustered eggs had a higher chance of surviving.\n\n\n\nDepending on the number of eggs laid on an individual plant, this defensive response could result in large amounts of leaf loss, which could weaken the plant as the caterpillars emerge.\n\n\n\nCan Butterfly Caterpillars Harm Plants?\n\n\n\nYou\u2019re probably expecting my answer to be a resounding,\nemphatic YES! \n\n\n\nBut I\u2019m going to go with\u2026 meh.\n\n\n\nWhat?! \n\n\n\n\u201cWhat about those nasty tomato hornworms? Those are\ncaterpillars!\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cWhat about loopers and leaf-rollers?\u201d \n\n\n\n\u201cWhat about cutworms and armyworms?\u201d\n\n\n\n\u201cDon\u2019t even get me started on leafminers and tent\ncaterpillars!\u201d\n\n\n\nI hear you, and if I was writing an article on moths, you\nwould have a point.\n\n\n\nBut\u2026 I\u2019m not. This is an article about butterflies. And\nbutterfly caterpillars just don\u2019t make the Top 10 Caterpillar Pests too often.\n\n\n\nCabbage white caterpillars\n\n\n\nThese guys are the exception. If you\u2019re growing a vegetable\ngarden and notice holes in your brassicas, these little worms are to blame. \n\n\n\nIn the caterpillar stage, cabbage white caterpillars are called imported cabbage worms. This is different from cabbage loopers, the cross-striped cabbageworm, and cabbage maggots.\n\n\n\nImported cabbage worms will target:\n\n\n\nCabbageKaleMustardBroccoliCauliflowerTurnipRadishChardBok ChoyBrussel sproutsCollardHorseradishKohlrabi\n\n\n\nThey can also attack nasturtium, sweet alyssum, and some cruciferous weeds.\n\n\n\nDepending on your climate zone, imported cabbage\nworms will produce 3-8 new generations each spring and summer. \n\n\n\nWorms are about an inch long, green, and fuzzy. They have a\nfaint yellow coloring down their sides and backs. \n\n\n\nWhen imported cabbage worms first hatch, they eat the surface layer of leaves, and leave behind an opaque scar. As the worms grow, they will progress to chewing large holes through leaves, and boring through heads of cabbage. Worms leave behind fecal matter that can build up and contaminate the spaces between tightly-formed leaves. Pellets will be dark green and build up at the base of leaves. \n\n\n\nThere are many ways to control imported cabbage worms, but\nthe easiest is to stop planting brassicas. If you can\u2019t live without your Brussel\nsprouts, try companion planting. Tansy and thyme are reported to repel imported\ncabbage worms, and they are easy to plant in your brassica beds.\n\n\n\nThe one other butterfly caterpillar that we found to\ncause damage was the Painted Lady butterfly. However, it targets thistles,\nwhich makes it a beneficial caterpillar in my opinion.\n\n\n\nCan A Butterfly Chrysalis Harm Plants?\n\n\n\nNo. Most butterflies use plants for a stable, protected\nshelter during their metamorphosis. \n\n\n\nUnless, of course, the chrysalis is that of an imported cabbageworm.\n\n\n\nThe chrysalis does not do any direct damage to your crops.\nHowever, the worms will overwinter on plant material, and reemerge the following\nspring to wreak havoc on your brassicas. This is a crucial life stage for\nsubsequent generations.\n\n\n\nIf you find the pupa of these worms, pull the plant and\ndestroy it to disrupt the lifecycle.\n\n\n\nCan Butterflies Help Plants?\n\n\n\nYes. Butterflies will pollinate flowers as they drink. They\naren\u2019t too important for major food crops, but they are perfectly suited to\npollinate native wildflowers. \n\n\n\nButterflies are an indication of the ecological health for\nan area. Butterflies are fragile members of an ecosystem, and a decline in\nnative populations can signal an imbalance or disruption in the local wildlife.\n\n\n\n\nYou can help support local butterflies by planting native host\nplants.\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nHow Can I Plant A Butterfly Garden?\n\n\n\nButterflies rely on certain host plants to reproduce.\nPlanting native wildflowers will help maintain local butterfly populations.\n\n\n\nButterflies like bright, sweet-smelling clusters of flowers.\n\n\n\nStart attracting butterflies to your garden by planting:\n\n\n\nButterfly bushButterfly weedMilkweedAstersDaisiesMarigoldsZinniasLantanaConeflowersPhlox\n\n\n\nProvide a small, shallow dish with a thin layer of soil in\nthe bottom. Place some flat rocks and damp sponges inside for the butterflies\nto puddle. Damp\nsoil allows butterflies to soak up the minerals they need, and the rocks give\nthem a place to land.\n\n\n\nMost butterflies are beneficial to your garden. The\ncaterpillars that cause the most damage in your garden are almost always the\nlarva of a moth. You can encourage butterflies into your garden without\nworrying about a devastating caterpillar infestation (just don\u2019t plant\ndecorative broccoli).\n\n\n\nDo you want to attract wildlife to your garden? Be careful you aren\u2019t attracting unwanted guests into your landscape. \n\n\n\nRelated Questions:\n\n\n\nCan Moths Harm Plants?\n\n\n\nAdult moths do not generally harm plants. However, moth\nlarva can destroy entire crops. Caterpillars that are blamed for plant damage\nare almost always young moths. There are 16x more moth species than butterflies,\nand many can cause real damage on fruit trees, flowers, or vegetables.\n\n\n\nShould I Release Butterflies Into My Garden?\n\n\n\nButterflies are beneficial insects, but you should not\npurchase them to release into the wild. Butterfly populations are fragile, and\nintroducing a new species, or even the same species from a different location,\ncan drastically alter the ability of native butterflies to survive. Do what you\ncan to encourage wild butterflies to thrive, but don\u2019t purchase your own.