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What Do Butterflies Eat?

what do butterflies eat

Have you ever wondered what butterflies eat to sustain themselves? While most people know that butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, their diet is much more diverse and complex than that. In this article, we will see what butterflies eat, how they feed, and their diet’s role in their survival.

How Do Butterflies Feed?

Butterflies feed through a long, straw-like tongue called a proboscis. When a butterfly lands on a flower or another liquid food source, it unfurls its proboscis and inserts it into the liquid. The proboscis acts like a straw, allowing the butterfly to suck up the liquid food, which is usually nectar. When the proboscis is not in use it is coiled up like a spring under the butterfly’s head.

Floral Nectar

butterfly feeding on flower

Butterflies are restricted to an all-liquid diet because of their straw-like mouthparts. They use their proboscis for drinking sweet nectar from flowers. Nectar sometimes resides deep within a flower, and the proboscis allows the butterfly to reach this sugary treat.

Most butterflies eat from nectar plants, while the plants that caterpillars eat are called host plants. Each species of butterflies has nectar plants that they prefer, but many adult butterflies will feed from various nectar sources.

It is important to note that butterflies are attracted not just to flowers with bright colours but also to flowers with strong fragrances. Some butterflies are attracted to flowers that smell like rotting fruit.

Vegetable Nectar

Butterflies feed on nectar from a variety of plants, including vegetables. Vegetable plants produce nectar-producing blossoms that are attractive to butterflies. By feeding on the nectar, butterflies help cross-pollinate vegetables, making them an essential part of the ecosystem.

Some common vegetable plants that have butterfly-friendly blossoms include:

  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Radishes
  • Cabbage
  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus

Herbal Nectar

Several species of butterflies are known to prefer herbal plants for their nectar. Some common examples include lavender, mint, dill, parsley, and thyme. These plants have brightly coloured flowers that produce a sweet, sugary nectar that butterflies find irresistible.

Herbal plants are also a great food source for butterflies because they tend to bloom for longer periods than other plants, providing a steady supply of nectar throughout the growing season.

Fruit Juice

owl butterfly feeding

Butterflies drink nectar from flowers, but they will also drink fruit juice. Fruit juice is similar to nectar for butterflies because it is sugary, provides energy, and is high in water, which hydrates them. Sweet, watery fruits like strawberries, watermelon, grapefruit, melon, and oranges are ideal for butterflies.


butterflies feeding on mud puddly

Butterflies also like to feed on mud, which provides them with essential minerals and salts.

Male butterflies, in particular, need sources of salt and minerals, which they can obtain by drinking muddy water. This practice is known as “mud puddling”, and when butterflies are in groups, it’s called “puddle clubs.”

Butterflies will also feed on mud to extract moisture, which is essential for hydration.

Tree Sap

If you have trees in your garden, you may notice butterflies visiting your area to drink the sap from the trees. Tree sap is a sweet liquid that tastes great to butterflies and is easy for them to drink with their proboscis.

Butterflies are attracted to tree sap because it is high in sugar, which gives them energy. Tree sap contains other nutrients, such as nitrogen, salt, mineral, and amino acids, which are important for survival.

Butterflies rely on insects or birds to break through the tree bark first. Once the tree sap is exposed, butterflies can drink it up with their proboscis.

Animal Products

If you’re wondering what butterflies eat, you may be surprised to learn that some species of butterflies feed on animal products. This includes:

Butterflies that feed on animal products are often attracted to rotting fruit, which can provide them with the nutrients they need to survive. While it may seem strange that butterflies would feed on animal products, it’s important to remember that they are opportunistic feeders. 

They will eat whatever is available to them in their environment, and animal products can be a valuable source of nutrients when other food sources are scarce. Some species of butterflies are even known to feed on the tears of turtles and alligators, which are rich in minerals and other nutrients.

butterfly feeding on flower


Do Butterflies Eat Pollen?

Butterflies do eat pollen, but not all of them do it intentionally. While feeding on nectar, some butterflies may accidentally ingest small amounts of pollen, which can provide them with additional nutrients.

Certain species, such as the zebra longwing, have evolved to consume pollen specifically. They have a special saliva that breaks down the pollen for them. Pollen consumption also aids in creating a chemical that releases a poison called cyanide if eaten, which serves as a defence mechanism against predators.

Do Butterflies Eat Bugs?

Butterflies do not eat bugs, at least not in their adult stage. Adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, giving them the necessary sugars and nutrients to survive. When they are in their larval stage, most are herbivorous. Only a few species are known to be carnivorous and will consume other insects as part of their diet.