What Do Butterflies Eat and Drink | 9 Things Other than Nectar

what do butterflies eat

Providing food is an excellent strategy to get more butterflies in your yard. But what do butterflies eat? The majority of a butterfly’s time is spent searching for food. Do you know that a butterfly can taste with its foot? Yes, this is the most unusual adaptation to butterflies’ eating habits. 

Although they are simple organisms, butterflies have a special ability that helps ensure their own life and the survival of their young. Most butterflies consume (or, more accurately, “drink”) nectar plants, whereas host plants are the plants that caterpillars consume. Each butterfly species has a preferred nectar plant, but most adults will consume nectar from various sources. 

How Do Butterflies Eat?

Butterflies use their proboscis (a tubular sucking organ) to ingest food. A butterfly’s proboscis, which resembles a tiny tube, enables it to siphon fluids from a flower or plant. Imagine savoring water or juice through a flexible straw. It is essentially how a butterfly uses its proboscis to drink.

A butterfly’s proboscis folds back toward its face once it has finished drinking so that it won’t get in the way while it flies through the air. When butterflies are caterpillars, they consume solid food components, s they have a mouth that can bite and devour plant materials.  

What Do Butterflies Eat?

Mostly flower nectar is what adult butterflies eat. Additionally, they can discover nectar sources from fruit, vegetable, and plant blooms. Butterflies can also obtain energy by consuming sugar water, fruit juice, tree sap, fungus, and animal-derived organic matter. Male butterflies will sip muddy water to get their needed salt and minerals. 

Although each butterfly species favors a particular plant, they will eat from any food source. They are not species-specific, in contrast to caterpillars. Their primary food source is flowers, but there are numerous more options for the discriminating opportunist.

They also require other nutrients, including amino acids, minerals, and nitrogen. Tree sap, moist soil, and flower pollen all contain them. They can also obtain these nutrients from rotting fruit and vegetables, feces, urine, perspiration, tears, and—the least appetizing of all—rotting carcasses, which are rather less appetizing. 

Butterflies can go up to five months without eating, which enables them to endure the winter’s short food supply for a few months. The winter hibernation period for most butterflies is known as diapause. So, butterflies can take the severe weather and scarcity of food.

Flower Nectar 

The most apparent option is flower nectar—a place where you’ll find the majority of butterflies. Flowers can attract butterflies by varying their size, shape, color, and fragrance. 

Butterflies have evolved to understand that a large, colorful, sweet-smelling flower will have a good supply of nectar. Butterflies prefer composite flowers with petals that fan out and have a large flat middle. 

Vegetable Nectar 

Additionally, vegetable plants make an effort to entice butterflies. On their plants, they do this with blooms that produce nectar. Once the nectar has been consumed, the butterflies will aid in the cross-pollination of plants. Zucchini, squash, pumpkins, and radishes are common vegetables with flowers that benefit butterflies. 

Herb Nectar 

Similar to vegetables, many different herb plants have nectar-producing blooms. Often, the shape of these petals makes it ideal for butterflies to land on a feed. The swallowtail and monarch butterflies, two of the most well-liked butterflies, can be drawn by herbs. 

9 Things Butterflies Eat Other than Nector

Sugar Water 

Butterflies can also eat a homemade butterfly nectar solution made from sugar and water. If your yard lacks nectar-producing flowers, this is a terrific technique to draw butterflies there. A butterfly feeder is the finest place to provide sugar water for butterflies. 

Butterfly feeders can be created from scratch or purchased already made. Although using sugar water to entice butterflies is an excellent idea, keep in mind that other insects that enjoy sugar may also be drawn to your yard. 

Fruits and Fruit Juices

Fruit is a favorite food of butterflies, and they lack the teeth necessary for chewing fruit flesh. As a result, people choose to consume fruit juices instead.

Fruit juice is quite comparable to butterfly nectar; it has a lot of water to hydrate them and is sweet to give them energy. Some fruits butterflies love strawberries, melon, grapefruit, and watermelon.   


Ever noticed a few butterflies swarming mud puddles after a rainstorm? Then you would have observed them engaging in a practice known as “mud puddling.”

Because muddy puddles are an excellent source of vital nutrients, butterflies like drinking from them; Salts, protein, nitrogen, and amino acids are mud’s main components, which maintain butterflies’ health.

Tree Sap

The abundance of sugar in tree sap provides the butterflies with vitality. Nutrients like nitrogen, salt, minerals, and amino acids are also present in tree sap. Therefore, you may be curious why butterflies do not favor tree sap over nectar.

The issue is that butterflies have direct access to the tree sap and must wait for other insects, creatures, or birds to pierce the tree’s bark first.


Leaf food is inedible to adult butterflies, and this is because they lack the necessary oral components for chewing, even though caterpillars (baby butterflies) can consume leaves. 

In actuality, a caterpillar’s diet consists primarily of leafy vegetables. It is so that caterpillars can bite and munch on vegetation thanks to their mouthparts.


The majority of butterflies avoid other insects. Again, this is because they lack the portion of the mouth necessary to consume solid food.

The harvester butterfly is one exception to this rule. The only carnivorous butterfly in the USA is this one. 


Butterflies enjoy eating fungi-based foods like lichen and mushrooms. The minerals and salts that butterflies require to stay healthy can be abundant in fungi.

Most fungi-eating butterflies are found in hot areas like the South American tropics. 


Most butterflies avoid eating pollen on purpose, and as they graze on sticky plant nectar, they could ingest pollen. Those unintentional pollen flecks may serve as a modest protein source for the butterflies. 

A peculiar type of butterfly known as the zebra longwing is known to consume pollen as part of its diet. Zebra longwing has a unique saliva that allows them to digest the pollen.

Organic Matter

Some butterflies will consume blood, flesh, feces, tears, sweat, and urine. While many of these things may seem disgusting to humans, butterflies benefit significantly from them. 

It follows the same pattern as mud puddles in terms of behavior. These organic materials are jam-packed with the nutrients and energy that butterflies require to survive.

Food Sources of Some Popular Butterflies

Fruits, including grapefruits, oranges, strawberries, bananas, apples, peaches, cantaloupe, and nectarines, are favorites of the majority of butterflies. But some other popular butterflies have different sources of food, which include:

Anise Swallowtail

The anise swallowtail caterpillar purportedly also consumes citrus trees in addition to anise. Numerous plants are relatively simple to locate in garden centers and nurseries nationwide. 

Pale Swallowtail

These butterflies feed on and get their primary source from flower nectar, including California buckeye, yerba santa, and wallflower.

Monarch Butterfly

 Adult monarchs consume nectar, which is the sugar- and nutrient-rich liquid that comes from flowers. Adult monarchs consume a range of nectar-bearing flowers, as opposed to their larvae, who solely consume milkweed. 

Gulf Fritillary 

The larvae feed on the leaves of passion flower vines, making them deadly to predators. The Gulf Fritillary is glossy orange in color with black spines. They feed on various plants, including Lantana, Butterfly Bush, Zinnia, Aster, Thistle, and Verbena.

Question Mark 

Caterpillars of the question mark butterfly eat plants such as sugarberry, American elm, false nettle, hackberry, hops, and stinging nettles. The question mark butterfly hunts for food in the form of decaying fruit, tree sap, dung, or carrion as an adult. 

Tailed Blue 

The cow vetch, clover, alfalfa, and wild pea are just a few of the pea family plants that the eastern-Tailed Blue caterpillar consumes. 

Wide varieties of clovers, alfalfa, vetch, and other Fabaceae plants’ blooms, seeds, and occasionally leaves, are consumed by larvae (the pea or bean family).

Orange Sulfur 

Alfalfa, white clover, and sweet white clover are favorites of the larval diet of legumes. Most of the time, the caterpillars eat at night. Adults frequently congregate in large groups in damp areas and are drawn to various flower varieties. 


Adults consume fruit that has gone bad, nectar from flowers, dead animals, and bat feces. Plants in the Acanthaceae family have females who lay their eggs on the young leaves. 

Butterflies with Favored Nectar Plants

Eastern Black Swallowtail

These butterflies favor Blue Mistflower, Milkweed, and phlox for nectar. 

Spicebush Swallowtail  

These butterflies favor Joe-Pye Weed, Sweet Joe Pye Weed, jewelweed, lantana, honeysuckle, and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) for nectar. 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

These butterflies favor Bee Balm (Monarda), Common Buttonbush, honeysuckle, sunflower, and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) for nectar. 

Great Spangled Fritillary

These butterflies favor Milkweed, New England Aster, Red Clover, Zinnia, Cosmos sulphureus, Lantana, Pentas, and Daisy for nectar. 

Checkered White

The butterflies favor dandelion, Gaillardia, and Purple Coneflower for nectar. 

Cabbage White

These butterflies favor mustards, Asters, dandelions, clover, Blazing Star, and mint for nectar. 

Spring Azure

These butterflies favor coltsfoot, daisy, Milkweed, Coreopsis, privet, and New Jersey Tea for nectar. 

Baltimore Checkerspot

These butterflies favor Lobelia, Coneflower, and Gaillardia for nectar. 


You’ll notice that butterflies primarily consume nectar, which means that providing a lot of nectar-producing flowers in your yard is the greatest way to get them there. The next best thing to put out at a butterfly feeder is homemade butterfly nectar or pieces of fruit.

If you have any kind of host plant nearby, butterflies will undoubtedly visit your yard searching for something to eat. Giving the butterflies in your region a place where there are muddy puddles after a thunderstorm or after watering the lawn is a surefire method to ensure their success. 

So, the answer for what do butterflies eat except nectar, can leads to confusion.  There are so many butterflies that eat a wide variety of things. They enjoy eating, even some questionable stuff, and you can be sure that your yard contains anything they enjoy eating. 


How do butterflies eat?

Butterflies sip sweet nectar from blooms using their proboscis.

What do butterflies eat in winter?

Regardless of the shape, they take over the winter; butterflies don’t need to eat. They go into diapause, and their bodily processes slow down, which enables them to survive the winter without having to eat.

What do butterflies drink?

They can suck up sugary liquids like nectar and juice from fruits and flowers with their proboscis and use them to sip water.

What is butterflies’ favorite food?

Although there are countless varieties of butterflies, most appear to share similar feeding preferences: nectar.

Do butterflies drink water?

Additionally, butterflies ingest water and fruit juice with the help of their proboscis.

Can butterflies drink sugar water?

Butterflies are undoubtedly attracted to sugar water. To be able to “See” where it is, they might require some help.

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Dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of the natural world, Andrew Daniel brings content for birds that are authentic and researched through reputable sources. Andrew Daniel combines all his experience, knowledge, and passion for updating the audience regarding the different habits of birds.