What do butterflies eat?
Many gardeners want butterflies in their garden. Learn which plants attract butterflies into the garden and what food do butterflies eat in this article.
For many people butterflies are the epitome of elegance and beauty. Children in particular are fascinated by these insects with brightly coloured wings and are happy when they can observe the beautiful butterflies in the wild. It is a goal of many gardeners to lure these gorgeous creatures into their garden. This works best if you offer the butterflies a good food supply in your garden. But what do butterflies like to eat and what plants do they prefer to forage on? In this article, you can learn everything about the feeding habits of butterflies and find out how you can additionally support these animals in your garden.
What do butterflies like to eat?
Most people know what a butterfly looks like and how it develops from a caterpillar into an adult insect. But what butterflies eat remains unknown to many. It all depends on the particular species of butterfly. Butterfly species that are native to Europe (like the common brimstone, for example) feed mainly on nectar. Butterflies eat their food with their mouthpart, the so-called proboscis. The proboscis functions like a straw and can be curled up between meals. This way of feeding allows butterflies to use many plants that are inaccessible to other beneficial insects such as bees – making butterflies an essential pollinator for many plants. Some of you might also wonder: what do moths like to eat? Moths also feed on nectar.
Most species of butterflies fly from March to April and are then on the lookout for food. Between November and February, however, only six butterfly species are found, which overwinter in Central Europe in their adult form. Normally, these winter species are in the hibernation and appear only when the weather is exceptionally warm.
However, there are also butterflies and moths that prefer a different diet. Some, such as the small emperor moth, do not eat anything at all during their short lifespan. Therefore, their proboscis is stunted. Other butterflies prefer plant juices or fallen fruit as food. Some even feed on the honeydew of aphids. In some tropical regions, there are exotic types of butterflies that use tears, sweat or even blood as a source of food. In Europe, this is not a common source of food for butterflies – European species like to keep to plants.
Which plants are a good source of food for butterflies?
If you want to attract butterflies to your garden with food, you should know that different species of butterflies prefer completely different plants to feed on. Painted lady butterflies mainly like alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) as food, but they also enjoy the thistle (Carduus acanthoides). Common brimstones, on the other hand, prefer plants such as the purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) or plants from the genus Centaurea as food. The diet of moths also depends on the species in question. With their long proboscis, hawk moths snack on the hidden nectar from hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) and phlox (Phlox). The silver Y is less picky and visits flowers of all kinds.
In order to attract as many different butterfly species in the garden as possible, it can be worthwhile to grow various butterfly-friendly plants such as the common heather (Calluna vulgaris), dock (Rumex) or dandelion (Taraxacum), which are liked by numerous species of these insects. In order to avoid having to collect all the plant seeds yourself, it is helpful to use butterfly-friendly seeds. Such seed mixes contain the seeds of plants that many species of butterflies can feed on.
In addition, perennial plants can also be grown in the garden to attract butterflies. The most popular food sources for butterflies are, for example, willows (Salix) and blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Butterflies also like to use the nectar of blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and lilacs (Buddleja) as food. All in all, the more plant species you grow, the more butterflies will visit your garden.
In addition to food for butterflies, the supply of something to drink is of course also important. But what do butterflies drink? As a matter of fact, butterflies cover their liquid requirements mainly by absorbing liquid nectar and other plant juices. Only on particularly hot days or to balance their mineral intake do butterflies occasionally visit small puddles to drink water from them.
What can I feed the butterflies with?
In general, the best food for butterflies is the food they can collect themselves from a colourful flower meadow – a garden full of butterfly-friendly plants is therefore the best way to feed butterflies. However, if you find a butterfly that is obviously exhausted and seems to be struggling, you can help it with a little snack. To do this, dissolve one-part sugar in four parts water. Then, dip a clean sponge into the sugary solution. The butterflies will then drink the sugary liquid from the sponge using their long sucking trunk.
Bowls or plates with sugar water should be avoided, because the liquid could get onto the wings of the butterflies. In the worst case, the wings could stick together preventing the butterfly from flying.
Another way to feed butterflies is with oranges. To do this, simply cut the fruit into centimetre-thick slices and drape them on a kitchen towel so that the excess fruit juice cannot stick to the wings of the butterflies. The butterflies can then suck the sweet fruit juice out of the orange slices.