The following article, “Butterfly feeding experiment”, is by Rowan Allen, who is eight-years-old. Readers of FFON will remember Rowan’s previous contributions to the website – a poem about an ocelot and a piece looking at the differences between poisonous and venomous animals. Rowan has always been fascinated by invertebrates that she sees but this year, in part due to the lockdown restrictions, she was able to pursue this interest in much more detail. Rowan had also started doing more photography and, as butterflies are such a charismatic subject, she wanted to find out more about those found in her family’s garden. Two things combined to help with the project – Worcestershire Wildlife Trust posted a design on their social media for a butterfly feeding station, and the Big Butterfly Count started. Rowan used, and later modified, the template from Worcestershire Wildlife Trust for her butterfly-feeding design but then wanted to monitor it more closely than the family could do themselves so they set up their wildlife camera and were able to take some excellent photos – as can be seen below. We are grateful to Rowan for once again letting us showcase her work on FFON.

John and margaret cooper – ffon

Butterfly feeding experiment by Rowan Allen

Reason for doing the experiment: I wanted to find out what butterflies I had in my garden and what type of butterflies ate which food.

Experiment: I made a butterfly feeding station and tried different type of food, and I did the Big Butterfly Count where I walked up and down my garden seeing what type of butterflies I could find.

How to make a butterfly feeding station

Part 1:

I found some wood in the shed and then sawed the wood into a rectangle shape.

The width was 30.7cm, length was 40.9cm and depth was 1.8cm.

I drilled 4 holes in the corners (my dad helped me), after that I put 1 piece of string though 2 corners and when I got the string though I knotted the end so it couldn’t pull back through the hole. I then did the same thing with the other piece of string.

Next I hung it on the buddleia bush because that is where butterflies like to go in our garden. After that I put 5 different lids on the wood – the difference between them was size and colour. I made some paper flowers to attract the butterflies.

Next I made sugar water by mixing 1 tablespoon of sugar and 10 tablespoons of water. I put the sugar water in the lids and put a camera trap next to it to see if any butterflies used it.

Part 2: I did not see many butterflies on the board – only one Peacock – so I moved the board into the sun to hopefully make the butterflies like it more. I painted it too, to make it more colourful like flowers.  I put it low down as lots of butterflies flew close to the ground in my garden.

I still did not get many butterflies so I tried putting fruit on the board and not just sugar water.

Part 3: I got butterflies to come and eat the fruit and not the sugar water so I tried just putting fruit on it and also I put it on a table so I might get different species as it was higher up.

Data I recorded from camera videos:

DateTimeSpeciesFood on boardFeeding?On whatPosition of board
16/07/2020>1 minutePeacockSugar waterNo Hanging under buddleia
20/07/2020>3 minutesPeacockSugar waterNo On box on grass
21/07/2020>5 minutesCommaSugar waterx3, watermelon, blueberriesYesWatermelonOn box on grass
21/07/202011 minutesCommaSugar waterx3, watermelon, blueberriesYesWatermelonOn box on grass
22/07/20202 minutesPeacockOrange, pear, watermelonNo On box on grass
22/07/2020>2 minutesPeacockOrange, pear, watermelonNo On box on grass
22/07/2020>1 minutePeacockOrange, pear, watermelonNo On box on grass
28/07/2020>2 minutesComma2xsugar water, orange, pearYesOrangeOn box on grass
29/07/2020>1 minutePeacockSugar water, pear, orange, watermelonNo On table
30/07/2020>1 minutePeacockSugar water, pear, orange, watermelonNo On table
30/07/2020>1 minutePeacockSugar water, pear, orange, watermelonNo On table
30/07/2020>1 minutePeacockSugar water, pear, orange, watermelonNo On table
05/08/2020>1 minuteCommaMango, watermelon x 2YesMangoOn table – no board.
07/08/2020>1 minuteRed AdmiralMango, watermelon x 2YesMangoOn table – no board.
07/08/2020>1minutemothMango, watermelon x 2YesMangoOn table – no board.
07/08/2020>1minuteMoth x 2 different speciesMango, watermelon x 2YesMangoOn table – no board.
08/08/2020>1 minuteCommaMango, watermelon x 2YesMangoOn table – no board.
08/08/2020>1minutemothMango, melonNo On table – no board.
10/08/2020>1minuteCommaMango, watermelon, orangeYesMangoOn table – no board.
10/08/2020>3minutesCommaMango, watermelon, orangeYesOrangeOn table – no board.

I could not make a good chart from this table but it shows that the Commas were all feeding on the fruit on the board and were there for up to 11 minutes. The Peacock butterflies were not feeding and only stayed up to 3 minutes. The Red Admiral was also feeding but only for more than one minute.

The butterflies seemed to like eating the watermelon, orange and mango more than the pear, blueberries and sugar water.

Peacock resting on the board
Comma feeding on watermelon (see orange arrow) – screen capture from camera trap

I also did butterfly counts in my garden for the “Big Butterfly Count” which is run by Butterfly Conservation.  This meant that I walked up and down my garden and counted butterflies for 15 minutes each time. I only counted walking in one direction so I did not count the same butterfly twice.  There were lots of different species each time but the most I counted of one species were 30 Gatekeepers. 

Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Marbled White were some of the butterfly species I counted in my garden.

The things I found out in this experiment were:

  • The Peacock butterflies stayed on the board for less time than the Commas.
  • The Peacocks did not feed but the Commas did.
  • I think the Peacocks were not attracted by the food but the colours on the board.
  • I think the Commas were attracted by the food on the board.
  • I think this might mean that the Peacocks find their food by colour and the Commas find their food by smell.
  • I think the board was useful for getting some butterflies to come in that I didn’t see when I did my butterfly counts.
  • I think the Big Butterfly count and the butterfly feeding station together gave me a good idea of what butterflies were living in my garden.

Problems I had in my experiment:

  • If the weather was bad the butterflies did not come to the board.
  • The camera was set off by the wind which gave lots of videos to go through on some days.
  • The camera did not record all the butterflies that went to the board because I saw some that were not recorded.
  • The camera did not show when all the butterflies arrived and went away so I could not be sure how long they all stayed for.
  • The fruit also attracted other animals like lots of flies, wasps and slugs.
  • It also attracted birds like magpies that ate the food.
  • If the camera was too close to the board it was not in focus so it was hard to see the butterflies.
  • At night I could not tell what species of moths was there as the infra-red did not show what colour the moths were.

Other animals like Magpies and slugs also ate the food:

There are 2 moths in this screen (blue arrows) capture but I could not tell which species they were.

Other experiments I could do in the future:

  • I could put a moth trap out to catch moths and see what species there were in my garden.
  • This might make it easier to see what species of moths were on the camera at night.
  • I could use different food to try to attract different butterflies.
  • I could put the food in a different place in the garden to see if different butterflies used it..

Butterfly feeding experiment by Rowan Allen who is eigh-years-old.