Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 2, 2006)
Don’t bug the insects
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
A large, unmistakable butterfly is the tiger swallowtail.
Palmetto bugs are not on most Floridian’s popularity list. Flies don’t rate high up there on the list either and aren’t normally included on the guest registry for outdoor parties, but who wouldn’t invite a butterfly?

Yes, they are all insects, however, it’s quite unlikely to see pink and lavender embroidered earwigs on a little girl’s T-shirt or stain glass silverfish embellishing the local restaurant’s Tiffany style lamps … and the difference is? Butterflies have pizzazz. They’re symbolic of freedom, summer days and flowering fields of wildflowers. Butterflies are pure elegance and fragile beauty all mixed into one package. Harmless, they come in an assortment of jewel-like colors, sparkling and fluttering like gifted ballet dancers throughout our gardens. Let’s face it butterflies are fascinating insects that we love to love. Not to mention that the life cycle of butterflies is just short of miraculous.

The University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, Bulletin #2490 offers these tips on how to maintain and attract beneficial insects, such as butterflies, to our gardens:

• Don’t use chemicals. If you must apply pesticides, stick with less toxic ones such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), neem, dormant oils and insecticidal soaps.

• Provide water. A simple dish or pan filled with pebbles will provide drinking water for a variety of insects.

• Provide shelter. Leaving some leaf litter and debris under shrubs may provide beneficial insects a place to hide during adverse conditions such as hot summer days.

• Increase the diversity of your landscape. Grow a variety of plants to support a variety of insects. Don’t be overly concerned with neatness, either.

• Do not use zapper lights that electrocute insects. These lights may kill more beneficial insects than pests.

• Try to have an early bloomer, such as sweet alyssum or butterfly weed, ready so the beneficial parasites can feed on nectar and pollen. The appetites of beneficials may peak before your garden does.

• Choose their favorite plants. As a general rule, beneficial insects like tiny flowers that offer both pollen and nectar.

A large, unmistakable butterfly is the tiger swallowtail. Some tiger swallowtails have been recorded with 51¼2 inch wingspans, as noted in the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. This guide describes males and some females as yellow above and below with black “tiger” stripes. Tiger swallowtails prefer woodsy, broadleaf gardens, parks and habitats such as orange orchards. Host plants listed for the tiger swallowtail include broadleaf trees, shrubs and willows.

Karen can be reached at

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