Insects like butterflies don’t eat in the same way that other insects will eat. They eat their foods through a tube called a proboscis. One amazing fact is that they can taste with their feet just by landing on a flower. The food that they eat, such as nectar, is a watery substance and like all food that they can eat, has to be in this same condition. The different stages of life can require different foods to help fuel a butterfly.
Carnivorous scavenger butterflies eating a fish. The butterflies actually lick salts from dead fish. © SmarterEveryDay (watch it on YouTube).
Caterpillars and diet
Leaves of different plants are what butterfly larvae eat. Each type of larvae will need a different type of leaf to be able to grow to adulthood. For example, a monarch larvae will need milkweed plant leaves in order to fully turn into a monarch. Different plants, shrubs and trees will host different butterfly larvae and provide them with food until they reach the adult stage.
Butterflies and liquids
Butterflies on elephant dung. This behavior is called mud-puddlingand butterflies do it to get nutrients such as salts and amino acids. © JJ Harrison.
Many different liquids can be part of the diet of a butterfly. Nectar is the main component of the diet, but they can drink the liquids left from fruits such as oranges, watermelons and bananas. Sweat, dung, pollen and tree sap can also provide a meal for a butterfly. Tasty, eh?
Not all butterflies are created equal
Not every butterfly is created equal in the food chain. Harvester butterflies can actually drink the wooly aphid’s body fluids. Zebra swallowtail butterflies can break pollen down into amino acids that allow them to survive for a much longer time. So while all butterflies do need a liquid diet, some have more ways of getting that liquid than others. Butterflies need a lot of nectar to keep going and they go from flower to flower to get the nutrition that they need. They can’t process anything but liquid, so a diet like some of the other insects would be impossible. Their systems are not set up for anything but the liquid diet that they consume.
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