Butterflies, birds, bees and other animals congregate in areas where the needed moisture and nutrients can be found in the damp rocky or muddy soil. Easily noticeable this time of year are the fluttering butterflies in a bouquet of color contrasted against the drab earthy background along the rural roads of northeastern Illinois.
The butterflies also gather at the edges of creeks, rivers, ponds and around the damp edges of the temporary puddles of standing rainwater, hence the term mud-puddling or puddling. Puddling mostly refers to the congregating of butterflies that are feeding on the minerals that leach out in those damp ground conditions.
Insects, like the butterfly for example, are often seen on the moist nutrient rich ground, focused and feeding with little regard to movement around them. Even after being flushed, they quickly return to the same spot and continue feeding. A less appealing sight are the perched butterflies on animal dung or even on the remains of a decaying animal where they probe with their long proboscis, their extended sucking mouth part, and feed on the salts, moisture, and nutrients in the decomposing matter.
Most animals get what they need nutritionally from their diet, but certain times of the year supplements may be required. Large mammals like moose, white-tailed deer and bison use these areas of high concentrations of minerals to supplement their diet. When the Bison of the Americas roamed in vast herds, their trek created and maintained these well established wilderness highways as they traveled great distances to reach those important mineral licks.
Smaller mammals like squirrels, mice, voles and woodchuck benefit from the high mineral content of shed antlers from deer, moose and elk. A number of birds, during the nesting season, seek out sources of calcium from snail shells, bones and antlers to supplement their diet that helps in the production of thick eggshells and helps in the development of strong bones for the young birds.