Make Food for Struggling Monarch Butterflies Using Your Leftovers

Monarchs need food and you can help.

A monarch butterfly sips from a plate with liquid and old melon

By Eve Livesey / Getty Images

Pity the monarch butterflies. Not only do the earnest flutterers fly up to 265 miles a day on their trek between northern and southern climes, but they must do so in the face of a number of challenges.

Some years bring strong winds and unusual weather, which can throw off the timing of the migration. Scientists and butterfly observers alike stay on the watch for “ecological mismatch.” Concerns include whether or not milkweed host plants will be ready for their lepidopteran guests. Will there be a surprise cold snap? Will the unusual weather affect breeding success?

The butterflies are at a critical point. Population estimates rise and fall, but deforestation of the overwintering habitat in Mexico continues to threaten the species. And in the north (U.S. and Canada), the butterflies face habitat destruction thanks to new roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion. They are also up against more subtle forms of habitat destruction in the loss of milkweed, which larvae feed on exclusively.

Considered a pesky nuisance by many, milkweed is often weeded into oblivion. Both milkweed and nectar plants are vulnerable to the herbicides used by landscapers, farmers, and gardeners, and others—not to mention the lethal impact insecticides have on the butterflies.

Re-establishing milkweed is crucial. So if you have an extra patch of dirt, perhaps consider planting some milkweed. In the meantime, you can also help the flitting lovelies by using leftovers to make butterfly food—a perfect win-win!

Recipe Using Old Fruit

The National Wildlife Federation suggests using a plate and adding fruit that is going bad. Butterflies are particularly fond of sliced, rotting oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, peaches, nectarines apples, and bananas—they benefit from the nutrient-rich liquid of the rotting, fermenting fruit. Simply place on plates and put outside. The mixture can be kept moist by adding water or fruit juice.

Recipe Using Beer & Bananas

From "The Butterfly Garden," by Matthew Tekulsky (Harvard Common Press, 1985) comes this formula which makes use of old bananas and flat beer. It is based on much of the same premise as above, but it has more ingredients. The delivery is different as well.

  • 1 pound sugar
  • 1 or 2 cans stale beer
  • 3 mashed overripe banana
  • 1 cup of molasses or syrup
  • 1 cup of fruit juice
  • 1 shot of rum

Mix all ingredients well and paint on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps–or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang from a tree limb.

Simple Sugar Water

Master Gardener Bobbie Truell from Texas A & M University recommends this simple alternative food source.

  • 4 parts water
  • 1 part granulated sugar

1. Boil the solution for several minutes until sugar is dissolved, and then let cool. Serve the solution in a shallow container with an absorbent material such as paper towels saturated with the sugar solution.

2. Bright yellow and orange kitchen scouring pads may be placed in the solution to attract butterflies and give them a resting place while they drink.

3. Place the feeder among your nectar flowers on a post that's 4-6 inches higher than the tallest blooms. Extra solution can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week.