Attract Butterflies with Overripe Fruit and Melon Rinds

We always think about growing flowers when we think about attracting butterflies to our yards. Or, if we’re thinking about the bigger picture, we think about flowers and host plants so that we are feeding both the adult butterflies and their caterpillar babies. However, what many people don’t realize is that not all butterflies are attracted to flowers.

There are quite a few species of butterflies that rarely, if ever, visit flowers. Instead, these species feed on tree sap, overripe fruit, scat, and decomposing animals. Examples of these butterflies include the red-spotted purple, question mark, comma, hackberry emperor, and many others. Understandably, most people don’t to want to add piles of dung or roadkill to their butterfly gardens. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t attract these beautiful butterflies to your yard.

A red-spotted purple and several hackberry emperor butterflies feeding on a watermelon rind that my mother put on her porch railing. Photo credit: Tricia Sepulveda, all rights reserved

Try putting overripe fruit that you didn’t eat in time, watermelon rinds, or similar items in a sunny spot. I’m always amazed at how many different species of butterflies will come to the overripe fruit or melon rinds. Although I sometimes see more familiar, flower-visiting species on the fruit offerings, most of the butterflies that come to the fruit are ones that don’t typically visit flowers. So, by providing the option of overripe fruit and/or melon rinds you may be able to attract a whole different suite of butterflies than you usually see in your yard. If you leave the overripe fruit or melon rinds out overnight, then you may even attract some interesting moths after the sun goes down.

One word of caution – don’t put too much overripe fruit or melon rinds out at once. If you leave too much overripe fruit or melon rinds out, then there’s a good chance you’ll attract raccoon, opossums, or maybe even bears depending on where you live, especially if you leave the fruit out at night. That can create nuisance issues that you and your neighbors probably don’t want to deal with and really aren’t fair to the animals labeled as being a nuisance. Depending on the time of year and where you are located, yellow jackets could also become a problem.

Small amounts of overripe fruit or melon rinds are less likely to create issues, but always use your best judgement. If an issue does occur, then correct it as quickly as possible. That will likely mean you have to stop putting out the overripe fruit and melon rinds, especially if you were doing it close to your house (such as on the porch railing) or in a high traffic area (such as right by the sidewalk or main path through your garden). But, if you can do it without creating nuisance issues with other animals, then offering overripe fruit and/or melon rinds can be a great way to attract even more butterflies to your yard.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at

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