While butterflies do not eat anything they do drink liquids of many types. Butterflies have a long tube in their mouths that is called a proboscis. This tube is shaped like a tightly curled straw. When the butterfly is ready to drink, it uncurls the proboscis and sucks up liquid through it.
What Do Butterflies Drink?
Butterflies seek out and sip liquids. At this point they are living off the fat that they have accumulated when they were in the caterpillar stage. They "eat" liquids to get the nutrition they need to survive. Butterflies must drink to survive. If there are no liquids available, a butterfly may regurgitate into the soil and drink it to get minerals. Even moist sand or dirt has enough liquid nutrients that the butterfly can get the nutrients it needs.
- Water puddles
On a hot day shallow puddles will often have many types and colors of butterflies congregated on it. This behavior is called puddling. This is generally done by male butterflies. The butterfly will extend its tongue to the surface of the puddle and suck up various minerals and salts that are important for the butterfly's health. Scientists think that the salts help in the production of pheromones. Pheromones help the male butterfly attract the female. These community puddles are great places to observe different types of butterflies.
- Flower nectar
When butterflies extend their proboscis into a flower, it is called nectaring. They are able to draw out the nectar of the flower through their tongues. This is also helpful in the pollination of flowers.
- Fruit juice
Flowers are not the only thing that provides liquid nutrients for the butterfly. They will often feed on fruit and tree sap.
- Animal excretions
Butterflies will suck moisture from manure and even rotting animal flesh. If you are out working or playing on a hot day often a butterfly will land on you and drink from your skin. It is drawn to your skin by the salt in your sweat. Sweat has salt, and other minerals that butterflies need.
Some butterflies have long proboscis that works great for fruit and flowers, however, the Harvester butterfly has a very short proboscis. With its short, hollow tongue it can pierce the bodies of small pests called wooly aphids. The Harvester butterfly then drinks the fluids from the aphids' bodies.
How to Feed Butterflies
- Sweet Alyssum
You can also suspend a small dish from a tree and fill it with cut fruit. Ripe oranges, grapefruit, peaches or strawberries all have a lot of the juice that butterflies love.
Another way to attract and feed butterflies is to use a nectar feeder:
- Make a solution of one part sugar to four parts boiling water.
- Stir until the sugar has dissolved and allow it to cool. Do not ever add any colorings.
- Place on a dish with a bright sponge. Neon pink, red, or orange are all colors that seem to draw the butterflies the best.
- Clean the dish and sponge and replace the nectar daily.
You may find that bees and hummingbirds find your butterfly feeder attractive as well.
Butterflies add a colorful beauty to any garden and are fun to watch. Knowing what butterflies eat can help you to draw even more of these fascinating creatures to your home.