The Four Elements of Habitat

George and I took our “pup and pony show” to the El Cerrito Garden Club today.  He spoke, and we showed my photos on the topic of maintaining a garden to attract and nurture butterflies.

George speaking about Gardening for ButterfliesWe prepared some handouts and I want to share some of the information with you, so here is George’s explanation of the elements that you need to provide habitat for wildlife.

The four critical elements are: food; water; shelter; and places to raise young. All four elements are intertwined and necessary for wild life. No one element stands alone, and without all four successes at providing for wildlife suffers.

1) Food: All wildlife enhancements absolutely require this. Animals of all species will avoid areas unless they can be guaranteed a reliable food source. A balanced ecosystem needs to sustain everything from plants for larval insects to seeds and prey species, etc.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar eating fennel

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar eating fennel

2) Water : The second partner in the pas-de-deux of life. Many animals need water to even feed, or to provide the food they need.

3) Shelter : The greatest variety of wildlife occurs at the interface of distinct habitat types. Example: an open field adjacent to a wooded area. Birds can feed in the field while having the woods to escape if necessary. And there needs to be shelter for them for waiting out inclement weather, or for night-time. Brush, trees of all types and heights, brush piles, high grasses, rock walls, and deep leaf litter and undisturbed forest “duff” all provide shelter and for the last item below:

4) Places to raise young : Success at proving habitat comes in a reward: succeeding generations of young! Tadpoles, baby birds, spawning fish, a skunk and her kits, emerging butterflies ovipositing and the emergent adults from cocoons or chrysalides is the perfect indicator of habitat success.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

As for shelter, again provide brush, trees of all types and heights, brush piles, high grasses, rock walls, and deep leaf litter and undisturbed forest “duff”’, and gravel beds for many anadromous species of fish.

Notes: it is essential that the above provisions are consistent, removal of one or many of the elements will cause unnecessary suffering and waste of valuable energy for animals. Make all changes to the environment gradual and incremental. Many animals will flee a changed ecosystem and not come back.

ABSOLUTELY REFRAIN FROM USING HERBICIDES AND PESTICIDES. They have no part in habitat preservation. Most long-term effects are unknown and the current load already in the environment is doing irreparable harm.

Thanks, George, for this concise explanation. Dear reader, are you gardening for wildlife – butterflies, bees, birds, and other critters? What are you doing in your garden to provide the four elements of habitat?

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Butterflies in Your Garden

My butterfly display at the El Cerrito Library  is up! It’s in the glass case at the front of the library.  It will be there from June 5th through mid-July.

One of my aims is to show people how to garden to attract and nurture butterflies in their gardens.  Along with some of my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and of the anise swallowtail butterflyand my artwork and crafts from my butterfly photos, I’ve put together some lists with information about local butterflies, their food sources and helpful plants.  I’m attaching the lists to this post as pdfs for you to read and print out for your own use.  If you want to copy them for any other use, please contact me for permission.

First, a partial list of Bay Area butterflies, with my photographs of a few of the butterflies:

Bay Area Butterflies

Second, a partial list of larval host plants for local butterflies. These are the most critical plants, because the butterflies need them to lay their eggs on. When the eggs hatch, they eat the plant to survive until they change into chrysalises:

Gardening to Attract Butterflies: Larval Hosts

Third, nectar plants for butterflies. This is also a partial list to give you some ideas about what you can plant to provide nectar for Bay Area butterflies. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Not all flowers provide nectar, so if you really want to help the butterflies, try to include as many nectar-providing plants as possible. The butterflies will waste energy visiting flowers that don’t provide nectar. And of course butterflies are great pollinators, and as they feed on the nectar they carry pollen from previously visited flowers:

Bay Area Butterfly Nectar Plants

Fourth, I compiled a bibliography of books related to butterflies, native plants and gardening that are available in the El Cerrito Library.  This is the link:

Books about Butterflies and Native Plants at the El Cerrito Library

Last, but not least, George wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae

If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments.  Hope you can make it to the display.