Stinging nettles are the preferred food for the larvae (caterpillars) of several species of butterflies. (Tina Portman photo)

Stinging nettles are the preferred food for the larvae (caterpillars) of several species of butterflies. (Tina Portman photo)

Nature Nut

I am willing to bet that most people do not like stinging nettles unless they like to harvest them to eat in the spring. I am even more sure that people would not consider having a few stinging nettles in their garden. However, if you like butterflies and would love to see more of them, perhaps you should reconsider.

Stinging nettles are the preferred food for the larvae (caterpillars) of several species of butterflies including Satyr Anglewings, Milbert’s Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals. The caterpillars may also bind the edges of the leaves together to form a protective tunnel against predators.

Tina Portman is growing a garden designed to attract native insects and other animals. This year she was thrilled to discover caterpillars foraging on the stinging nettles. One day the caterpillars had left the nettles and after a brief search Tina found two chrysalises (pupal cases) hanging on the house close by. After a while, one of the pupae turned dark and the adult butterfly (a Satyr Anglewing) emerged. This is one of the most common butterflies throughout BC. Notice the jagged edges of the wings and the white comma shape on the back of the closed lower wing (see photo). After a short period drying out and hardening, the wings opened to reveal the pretty orange-brown and black markings and the butterfly flew away (see photo).

The Satyr Angelwings that emerge in July do not usually lay eggs but tend to hibernate and over winter as adults in woody debris, old tree stumps, crawl spaces, and outbuildings. They are one of the first butterflies to appear in the early spring as they search for a patch of stinging nettles on which to lay their eggs.

Adult butterflies consume flower nectar as an energy source and are important for pollination.

People are urged to leave patches of nettles, especially in suburban areas, to encourage more of these butterflies.