Sep 25th, 2013

What do Butterflies Eat?

  Archaeoprepona demophon - King Shoemaker Butterfly

Archaeoprepona demophon – King Shoemaker butterfly eating fruit.

by Kendra Norrell, Assistant Butterfly Curator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

During the Butterflies LIVE!  exhibit, there have been many guests that point out the butterflies on the floor. While this can be worrisome  at first to those who see it and are concerned about butterflies getting stepped on, it is important to note that the butterflies are there for a very specific reason:  they are feeding.
Butterflies are known nectar feeders. A lot of times when we think of butterflies, we can envision them fluttering in a meadow full of blooms and the butterflies moving from flower to flower to get their delicious nectar. But, butterflies eat  other things too.  While nectar is a staple in a butterfly’s diet, there are nutritional aspects missing from the sugary substance.
Salt and other minerals are some of the important missing pieces. One place that butterflies can get these minerals is from standing water. This is why, especially when the floor is wet, butterflies will land on the floor and stay there. In nature, butterflies are sometimes seen doing the same thing, drinking from a puddle on the top of a rock, or in a muddy or sandy area along a stream.  But what you can’t see right away with the butterflies on the floor is they are using their proboscis (a long straw like appendage that butterflies use to feed) sucking water off the floor.
Another more substantial food source to some butterflies is rotting fruit. You might notice in the exhibit plates of fruit on trays — just for the butterflies. Do not eat the fruit, it’s rotten! While humans may not enjoy rotten fruit, butterflies love it for all its sugary glory, and possibly its fermenting deliciousness! Butterflies will sit on rotten fruit sucking for a long period of time to get all the nutrients they need for flying, feeding, and reproducing.
While you might think rotten fruit is completely undesirable, there are a couple of worse things that butterflies love to eat. Yes, you guessed it: sometimes butterflies eat bird droppings or animal dung.  Meanwhile, in the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit we are happy to let the butterflies get the minerals that they need by “puddling” on the floor.  Just be sure to use caution when walking through the exhibit. Using the “butterfly shuffle” and being careful about where you step are two easy ways to avoid stepping on butterflies on the floor.

Remember, Butterflies LIVE! ends in just a few short  weeks  — so be sure to visit soon!


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