All About the Flower Colors that Butterflies Pollinate(2019)

All About the Flower Colors That Butterflies Pollinate

Butterflies are a common sight in any garden and their presence can be quite overwhelming for anyone. They can help in lending a feeling of smoothness to the eyes while at the same time, their presence can be effective for the pollination of plants. They feed on nectar from many types of plants and thereby, help in the process of pollination. The way butterflies look at the world and flowers is very different than humans and hence understanding those points can be very helpful in planning a perfect butterfly garden where they can visit in droves. Butterfly preferred flowers can be planted in such a garden so that the winged visitor may come and help in the pollination process.

However, there have always been queries like whether butterflies can see as humans and what flower colors do butterflies like to pollinate, etc. Answers to these questions and many others can be expected in the following sections where we shall look into butterflies and some of their important aspects.

1. The Way Butterflies View the World 

The Way Butterflies View the World 

In the world of human cuisine, great chefs always try to make their platters attractive by putting in a colorful presentation to a dish so that more people can stay interested in their offering. An attractive visual appeal can work wonders in getting more interested customers. Similarly, flowering plants also use exclusive visual cues to attract butterflies for a delicious meal for them and that can also help them in pollination.

There are some specific flower colors butterflies pollinate more and hence these flowers can be said to be the favorites among them. This is due to their compound, immobile eyes that can view a range of colors yet it is slightly nearsighted. Color vision identification by butterflies helps them in detecting many types of colors that we are familiar with like red, white and blue. At the same time, there are also many types of butterflies that can also detect ultraviolet lights. There are plants that can communicate with butterflies regarding their nectar availability through the help of an ultraviolet band that is not detectable by naked human eyes.

In fact, there is a collaborative relationship existing between butterflies and flowers due to which flowers invite and encourage them to feed their nectar. Moreover, many plants are able to attract butterflies in many ways including color, reflectance, outline, temperature, scent, size, surface texture and motion.

2. Nectar is an Important Criteria 


People who ask ‘what flower colors do butterflies like to pollinate‘ generally do not factor in the concept of nectar that should also be discussed here. Actually, for attracting a pollinator to a flower, nectar availability must be particularly highlighted by a plant so that more butterflies can be interested in it. In a way, it is a sort of advertising that a flower must perform to attract more butterflies towards it.

There are well-built nectar guides in flowers that are also called as ‘honeyguides’ or ‘pollen guides’. These guides usually offer a visual contrast, either in color or form. A naked human eye can sometimes detect these patterns while at other times, they may be in the ultraviolet range.

3. There is a Color Preference Amongst Butterflies 

Color Preference

After enough research has been done, it is now a known fact that there are certain flower colors butterflies pollinate more due to the attraction made by them. Many species of butterflies like to visit definite flower types because they are well acquainted with them and are also able to distinguish a range of colors. Therefore, different butterfly species have likeness or attraction for different types of flowers.

However, it is also a fact now that butterflies, in general, are more attracted towards flowers that have a white, purple, yellow, pink, red and orange colors. Color-wise, amongst the least favorite flowers of butterflies are the ones between blue to green. This further indicates that blue to green wavelengths are not much attractive for butterflies and hence they generally stay away from such flowers. There are also some studies that suggest that butterflies have developed enough intelligence regarding nectar formation from color identification. It effectively means that they may know from a flower color what type of nectar can be available in it. Therefore, color can be used by them as a visual cue for searching their favorite plant for their nectar requirement.

4. Some Other Flower Characteristics 

Now, it is a known fact that there are certain flower colors butterflies pollinate in abundance yet there are certain other characteristics too that also help in determining the presence of butterflies.

Truth is that butterflies usually visit a flower to search either for nectar or other food sources. Butterflies are usually drawn to those flowers that are made up of many small flowers arranged together so that there can be many types of option for them. Also, flowers with extra large petals are always frequented by butterflies due to their enhanced visual appeal.

For the time being, keeping color consideration out of the equation, butterflies also prefer to visit flowers that have narrow and short nectar tubes along with vibrant fragrances. It is because this type of flower is usually the ones that are able to offer the best and richest form of nectar for them. Perfect butterfly flowers are those that have at least a content of 20% sugar and a lot of amino acids.  Now, therefore, people who have the query ‘what flower colors do butterflies like to pollinate‘ can also be replied that apart from color, there are other considerations too yet color makes up the most important part.

5. Effects of Color on Butterfly 


Initially, it was a herculean task to find out whether there was any affinity for any flower color that butterflies pollinate. Luckily, a lot of research has been conducted that has helped in finding out a favorable answer. It has also been found that butterflies get attracted and reply to the color of petals in a flower. In horse chestnut tree, the nectar guide color varies from yellow to red when there is no production of nectar.

There is a particular flower that appears with a tremendous effect in an ultraviolet range and it should be particularly discussed here for its properties. It is the Rudbeckia hirta usually called as black-eyed Susan and it contains a compound that can absorb light very well in between the wavelengths of 340 nm as well as 380 nm. The petals of its flowers resemble that of the daisy and may look yellow to humans whereas insects can view a dark center. This is a strong case in point that goes on to show butterflies affinity for colors.

6. There is a High Adaptability 

flower colors butterflies pollinate

There are different flower colors butterflies pollinate although the sensitivity to light varies widely and that is also the reason why they are able to see a range of colors. Therefore, they have the largest visual range amongst all form of animals. They can practically see things that even humans can’t!

Here, it must be mentioned that the Papilio xuthus which is also known as chinese yellow swallowtail butterfly enjoys a pentachromatic optical system which in effect means that the butterfly can react to five different bands of light and that can be absolutely tremendous for such a small insect. Therefore, its eyes have five distinct type of cells for the purpose. While in pursuit of food, it utilizes its color vision characteristics and is receptive towards UV, blue, red, violet and green wavelength peaks, pointing to the fact that there is color constancy. While outside, this type of butterflies usually drink nectar from different types of flower colors not only in the sun but also from shaded areas as they can easily identify a flower. Even on cloudy, grim days, they are able to recognize flower color just like, or say, better than humans!

Therefore, as we delve deeper and into each butterfly species, we can get an inkling that each of them has a specific viewable wavelength zone that is best suited for them.  From within their comfort zone, they can help find the best option of plants and flowers for them that suits their preference. In this respect, some other variants should also be discussed so that there is a complete and better understanding of flower colors butterflies pollinate. The very popular Atrophaneura Alcinous commonly called as windmill butterfly enjoys a comfortable visual wavelength of 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers, the Sara Longwing butterfly has got a range of 310 nm to 650 nm.

All of these figures show the wide exclusive viewable ranges that each of these winged insects enjoys. Hence, depending upon one’s attraction, butterflies get drawn towards flowers of choice.  

7. There is Enough Ultraviolet Difference 

Enough Ultraviolet Difference

People who study butterflies are known as lepidopterists and they can be helpful in answering the baffling question ‘what flower colors do butterflies like to pollinate?‘ It is a very important observation but in the same breath, it must also be mentioned here that butterflies can be unique and they may identify each other easily, unlike humans! it can be very tough for a lepidopterist to recognize a particular butterfly from many similar ones yet the same thing can be easy among them because they make use of ultraviolet markings.

Butterflies like the Cleopatra (Gonepteryx Cleopatra) display invisible patterns in normal light whereas the same gets revealed in an ultraviolet light source. In little sulfur butterflies (Eurema Lisa), there is a particularly strong difference between the male and female of the species with respect to the viewing. In the ultraviolet region, the males of the species are highly reflective whereas the females are non-reflective in nature. This goes on to suggest that even within a single species, there can be a lot of difference. Also, butterflies that can be prey to birds display the considerable difference of look so that it can camouflage itself perfectly and help itself stay safe and secure.

In some butterfly species, traits like communication and behavior are also guided through color. Presence of ultraviolet patches in some types of butterflies can be directionally iridescent. This means that they may spark while flying. The sparks can play an effective role in dominating its choice of a particular type of flower and hence pollination can be done by it accordingly.

8. There are Some Misconceptions 

While certainly there are flower colors butterflies pollinate and help plants multiply, it is also an established fact now that they generally stay away from the color, green, especially during their feeding process. They are more attracted towards the said color at the time of egg laying because it provides the perfect coverage during that time and also helps in keeping the eggs secure till hatching.

Add to it the fact that pupae and caterpillars have an unending appetite and that can only be satisfied by staying near to a regular source of food. Therefore, during its metamorphosis stage, it prefers green but otherwise, there is no affinity of butterflies for the color, especially when it is looking out for nectar or its food. The green photoreceptors, that are available with butterflies, have more to do with movement detection rather than finding food with the help of it. Therefore, these receptors are not used by them while foraging.

9. Bright Colors Are Always Welcome 

Bright Colors

As has been mentioned earlier too, butterflies recognize certain colors and their flight certainly helps in pollination of plants. For every species, there are some flower colors butterflies pollinate and all of this happens during the daytime and in flowers that are bright in color. Though butterflies are less efficient compared to bees yet their sheer number can dominate the proceedings because what they lack in features they make up in numbers.

It is a fact that due to their perching long legs, they may not be able to gather as much pollen on their bodies as bees and also do not have specialized structures for carrying them. But again, there can always be swarms of butterflies around and they clearly help in moving around the pollen with their huge numbers.

10. Their Vision is Better Than Taste 

Butterflies taste through their feet and therefore their tasting sense is not very much developed. Similarly, their smelling sense is also not very advanced. Rather both these senses have been amply compensated for with the viewing so that they can correctly determine where nectar is present and which all flowers have to be visited by them for getting a quality food. People who have the query ‘what flower colors do butterflies like to pollinate‘ can be satisfied to know that every flower visited by them can be abundantly rewarding because they know the details of a flower beforehand. Pollination can also proceed smoothly and fast because a particular butterfly will visit similar type of flowers more often that is in its viewable range.

11. Bringing Butterflies to a Garden

Bringing Butterflies to a Garden

Keeping everything else constant, a person can be sure of getting many types of butterflies by growing different types of flowers. In a particular growing season, many types of butterflies can be attracted in this way and the targeted flower colors butterflies pollinate can be easily chalked out. When butterflies fly, it can be very easy for them to detect a single color grouping of a particular color from above. Hence, bunching together a particular flower type can always be expected to be a kind of advertising hoarding for them offering nectar!

Here, some other things must be kept in mind so that butterflies keep on returning to a flower garden for more. First and foremost, it is important that there is no distraction or danger that they should feel during the stay in the garden. Also, use of insecticide should be selective and kept to a minimum so that they can help pollinate the flowers and do not get neutralized due to it.

In all of this operation, there is an unintended but very common consequence that usually happens in a butterfly garden. Caterpillars generally hatch after butterflies mate and lay eggs in a flower garden. Here, one should be a bit cautious because, during that phase, they may have an unending appetite that can be sometimes devastating for a garden. However, by taking preventive steps, it can also be managed well and the damage can be kept to a minimum before butterflies return once again to the place.

Regular butterflies in a garden will also visit in a similar fashion and all the flower colors butterflies pollinate can be there gradually.

It is, therefore, no surprise that butterflies may have to be cultivated in the same way as flowers and plants are grown in a garden.

12. Conclusion 

We know that butterflies have a very well developed viewing sense that can be helpful in getting their needed nectar and food. At the same time, they may have a particular preference for flower colors due to which pollination can be likewise affected. However, all of this can be very useful for mapping their characteristics and we can get a lot of information from their pollinating operations.

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