How to Feed a Butterfly: 6 questions answered

You can feed a butterfly outdoors with sugar water or rotting fruit placed on a butterfly feeder. In their habitat, you feed it with Gatorade, honey water, or cut fresh fruits. 

1. What kind of food do butterflies eat?

Butterfly feeding on rotting fruit
Butterfly feeding on rotting fruit

The majority of butterflies have a liquid diet and eat nectar, with only a few exceptions. Their nutritional requirements consist mostly of liquids and sugar, but they also need minerals, salts, amino acids, and nitrogen. Common food sources for butterflies include:

Usual food sourcesFlowers, fruit blossoms, fruit juice, sugar water, tree sap, muddy water, fungi (mushrooms and lichen)
Common fruit blossoms that butterflies feed off ofApples, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, figs, oranges
Vegetables that have nectarCabbages, pumpkins, zucchinis, radishes, squashes, artichokes
Herb blossoms that have nectarOregano, parsley, chives, dills, fennels

Tree sap, muddy puddles, and creek beds are great sources of minerals and salts, particularly for male butterflies.

Different types of butterflies prefer different foods. Sometimes, they also consume pollen while feeding on flower nectar. Although it’s not an essential part of diets for most species, it’s a good protein source. Zebra longwing butterflies are known for collecting pollen and dissolving it into a liquid form to consume it.

Certain butterflies can eat other insects, although in rare cases. An example of a carnivorous butterfly species is the Harvester butterfly, with its favorite food for both caterpillars and adults being woolly aphids.

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2. How Do Butterflies Eat?

While caterpillars feed on plants and can consume solid food, adult butterflies are unable to do so. Their mouths reduce to a tubular mouthpart called proboscis in the pupal stage. They don’t have tongues either, but they can taste what they eat. The majority of their taste buds are located on their feet, and they have some on their proboscises and antennae as well.

Butterflies lower their proboscises, extend them, and use them like a straw to drink nectar from flowers. A butterfly’s proboscis is long and can reach deep into the flower to find nectar when needed. They also use it for drinking water and fruit juice.

3. How to Make Butterfly Food?

To make sugar water or butterfly nectar, mix one part sugar and four parts water or add three tablespoons of sugar per one cup of water. The water needs to be warm to break the sugar down. Stir until it’s completely dissolved.

4. How to Feed Butterflies Outdoors?

Butterflies on a mud puddle
Butterflies on a mud puddle

There are two ways to attract butterflies to your outdoor area. Butterflies are pollinators for various plants and cross-pollinators for some vegetables. If you have a garden, you can plant host plants such as milkweeds, marigolds, or zinnias to attract butterflies.

Butterfly garden feeding can also be done by setting up a butterfly feeder in your garden or backyard or on your patio. A butterfly feeding station is an easy DIY project. Simply use a plastic plate, drill a few holes, and hang it with flower pot hangers. Alternatively, use a shallow dish with a base.

Place overripe or rotting fruit on the feeder. For example, you can use the following:

  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines
  • Watermelons
  • Oranges
  • Mangoes

Note that rotting fruit is likely to attract wasps to your feeding station. They are not a threat to adult butterflies – only to butterfly larvae. However, if they make a nest on your patio, they can become dangerous for your family, especially if someone in your household is allergic to a wasp sting. They then become a problem for people, and you’ll need to use a wasp removal service to get rid of them safely.

If you have multiple butterfly species in your outdoor area, you can cut up and skewer various fresh fruit to feed them.

5. How to manage Feeding Butterflies in a Habitat?

Monarch butterflies are often kept in an indoor habitat, and other species may be raised indoors too. An appropriate living space for adult butterflies is at least one square foot (0.09 square meters). They need a temperature of above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.8 degrees Celsius) to be active and eat.

You can make an indoor butterfly feeder from a shallow dish and a plastic pot scrubber, or you can use thin sponges soaked with nectar.

Recommended food types may vary by butterfly species. For instance, sugar solution and fresh flowers are not recommended for adult Monarchs. Instead, you can feed them:

  • Gatorade
  • Juicy Juice
  • Honey water (one part honey, nine parts water)
  • Fresh fruits
  • Artificial nectar

Make sure to regularly change the food in the container.

6. How do you feed a butterfly by hand?

To feed an injured butterfly by hand, soak a paper towel in Gatorade, a children’s juice, or a fruit punch at room temperature and place it in a shallow dish. Pick the butterfly up gently at the tips of its closed wings with dry hands. Then, place it on the paper towel so that it can taste the food with its feet.

If it doesn’t start eating, use a toothpick, pin, or paperclip to gently lower its proboscis. If it still doesn’t eat, try again in a few hours. Offer injured butterflies food at least once a day.

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