What do butterflies eat? There’s a good chance you answered something like sugar water, flowers, or nectar. You’re not wrong — but the full answer will surprise you.
Most species of butterfly sip on sweet nectar from plants, but others have favorite foods that range from the unexpected to downright disgusting. In fact, more than 20,000 different species of these winged creatures live on this Earth, according to the North American Butterfly Association, and each has its own favorite food.
So, What Do Butterflies Eat?
Some dine on mud and tree sap. A few devour blood, sweat, and tears. There are even butterflies that feast on rotting flesh and feces. (If you’re curious about caterpillars, they simply eat leaves for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)
In short, if it dissolves in water, a butterfly can eat it. But if you want to get technical, these colorful creatures don’t eat at all.
Here’s what I mean: butterflies have what is called a proboscis — a long, tube-like tongue. This acts like a straw to help them soak up sugary nectar and those other strange snacks.
Why do some butterflies love a dirty dinner? Scientists speculate they’re searching for salt, amino acids, and other nutrients they can’t find in sugar. Sometimes their cuisine is also a survival strategy. Monarchs, for instance, become poisonous to predators when they munch on milkweed.
What Eats Butterflies?
Butterflies may not eat other living creatures, but they’re a tasty treat for many small animals. These are just a few of the beasts that love to feast on butterflies:
- Praying mantises
Despite this long list of predators to dodge, butterflies aren’t an easy meal. Creative camouflage and poison helps them stay alive. A bird will have to look pretty hard to spot a grayling butterfly resting on a tree trunk or a green hairstreak perched on a leaf.
And if a spider does manage to eat a monarch, it will probably think it tastes pretty gross, thanks to that milkweed diet. Once the spider learns monarchs are disgusting, it probably won’t try to dine on a viceroy, either. This species is almost an identical twin to the monarch, and they often fool predators into thinking they’re toxic, too.
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right?
Life Cycle Of A Butterfly
Butterflies don’t have to dodge predators for long, because their life cycles are surprisingly short. Small butterflies may only live for a week. Others, like monarchs, can live for up to nine months, and the painted lady can live up to one year.
The life cycle of a butterfly is made of four stages.
- Egg: All butterflies start out as an egg. A butterfly will typically lay its eggs on the underside of a leaf. If you look closely, you can sometimes watch the caterpillars grow. Pretty cool, right?
- Larva: Once that tiny egg hatches, a caterpillar emerges. And just like the book, caterpillars are very hungry. They spend most of this stage eating, and they grow quickly.
- Pupa: Once the baby caterpillar is fully grown, it will form a chrysalis. This stage, also called metamorphosis, is a fun one because this is when the caterpillar will transform into a butterfly.
- Adult: After 10-15 days, the butterfly will emerge from its chrysalis, wait until its wings dry, and then take off on its first flight. Eventually the female will lay more eggs, and the cycle will repeat.
Butterflies are fascinating creatures, aren’t they? They can eat strange things, some taste like poison, and they look entirely different when they grow up. Here are some more fun butterfly facts:
- Butterflies can taste a flower just by landing on it. Each of their six legs has a sensor that lets them taste and smell through their feet.
- Some butterflies have names that will make you think of English class, like the question mark and green comma.
- If you live in the United States, roughly 100 different species of butterflies reside near your home.
- Many butterflies are strategic about where they lay their eggs. They choose plants that will be devoured by the caterpillar from the moment it hatches.
- A caterpillar’s first meal is often the very shell from which it hatched.
- The Queen Alexandra's birdwing is largest species of butterfly, and its wingspan stretches nearly a foot across. It’s also one of the rarest species. You’ll only find it in the rainforests of New Guinea.
- The western pygmy blue is the smallest butterfly, with a wingspan of just ½ inch. These tiny creatures can be found all over the world, including the western United States and Hawaii.
- Many butterflies never poop, though some like to eat it.
Do you have any fun facts about butterflies that we missed? Share them in the comments!
Want to learn more fun facts about animals? Check out these fascinating facts about 10 bizarre deep sea fish, find out why worms could be the ultimate waste solution, and get the final answer to the question, “Are buffalo extinct?”