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A Butterfly’s Favorite Meals – the Good and the Gross!

By Kelle Hartman, Children & Family Educator

When asked about a butterfly’s favorite food, most people will answer flowers or nectar. While this is true for many types of butterflies, they also have an appetite for many other foods, some of them being downright icky!

Leaves


VC: Lisa Hartlund

OK, it’s the caterpillars that eat the leaves, but eat they do! Caterpillars will often devour an entire plant during their short time as a larva. But since they have to grow so much (sometimes increasing their weight by more than 1,000 times!) in the two weeks before they become a pupa, they really need the food! Most caterpillars are also very picky eaters, preferring the leaves of just a few kinds, or sometimes just one kind, of host plant.

Nectar

butterfly drinking from flower

PC: John Oates Photography

A butterfly is limited to liquid diets due to its straw-like mouth called a proboscis. This allows them to reach into the base of flowers to drink the sweet, sugary nectar found there. Nectar provides a quick source of energy which the butterflies need for flying and reproduction.

Rotting Fruit

PC: John Oates Photography

Many butterflies, especially in the tropics, like to sip the juices from fresh and rotting fruit. The fruit provides both quick energy and other nutrients not found in nectar. Some of their favorite fruits are watermelon, bananas and oranges.

Mud Puddles

Butterflies can often be seen hanging out in groups near shallow puddles on beaches and in gardens, and even on rocks and sidewalks. This provides the butterflies with water but also important minerals and salt, which have soaked into the water from the soil or ground. These elements are not found in the sugary nectar, so butterflies are forced to find them elsewhere.

butterflies on stones

Scat, Dung, Poop

Whatever you call it, or how yucky it sounds, some butterflies love it! Nothing in nature goes to waste, and many important nutrients and minerals pass through the digestive tracks of other animals. By using their proboscis to sip up the fluids found on scat, they are feasting on nutrients needed for flying and reproduction.

Carrion

Yep, that’s right, dead animals. As an herbivore, butterflies can only get so much of what they need from plants and are often seen feeding on this delicious, nutrient-rich substance.

Do you need to provide all of these yucky food sources to attract butterflies to your yard? Goodness, no! Creating a garden with a healthy serving of host plants for caterpillars and a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season will give them cause enough to visit your home. But if you really want to impress these visitors, include a shallow water dish filled with rocks and sand, or a platter of old apples and bananas to show our native butterflies you really care!

Want to see butterflies in action? Join us for Butterflies & Blooms this summer to see these beautiful insects and to see them slurping up nectar from a variety of flowers. The exhibit is open daily from 10 am-5 pm through August 31.

little girl smiling with butterfly

Young girl enjoying Butterflies & Blooms. PC: John Oates Photography

Want to see butterflies in action? It’s National Pollinator Week! Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and plant your own pollinator paradise with these simple garden designs made in partnership with the Wild Ones – Green Bay Chapter and Stone Silo Prairie Gardens. You can buy these plants at local nurseries like Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, too! Green Bay Wild Ones Chapter will also be on hand at the butterfly house this Wednesday, June 19 and and Saturday, June 22 to answer questions and sell pollinator garden kits you can plant at home. Kits will be available in three sizes (Small-8 plants for $18, Medium-16 plants for $35, and Large-32 plants for $70) for sun or shade. Cash or check only.

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