What Do Butterflies Eat?

Nectar, is a butterfly’s main source of food. Nectar is a liquid sugary substance produced by most plants that flower. Nectar is what attracts pollinators like bees, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies to feast on the nectar. The nectar is their main energy source but not their only source of food.

Before we look at other things butterflies eat let’s first look at how they eat.

How Do Butterflies Eat?

Butterflies do not have a mouth but a long tube-looking thing called a proboscis. The proboscis unrolls like a long straw that allows the butterfly to sip up yummy sugary liquid.

What Else Do Butterflies Eat and Drink?

Butterflies also eat a variety of other foods that give them other minerals and nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Each butterfly species has its favorite food but needs more than just one food source.

Flower Nectar

Favorite flowers include:

  • thistle
  • aster
  • hollyhock

All are just a few flowering host plants for the Painted lady caterpillar also known as the thistle caterpillar.

 Milkweed is a great source of nectar and a host plant for Monarch caterpillars 

Last but not least Dandelions are one of the first flowers in the spring and one of the last fall flowers think twice before thinking of them as just weeds.

Vegetable Nectar

Some vegetables need a pollinator to produce the vegetable its a good thing butterflies enjoy vegetable pollen from …

Pumpkins, Zuchinnea, and squash just to name a few. 

Herb Nectar 

A few of the butterfly’s favorite herbs are

  • fennel
  • chives
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • dill

Dill is also the host flower for swallowtail butterflies. Next time your herbs bolt on the flowers will not go to waste and the butterflies will be happy to enjoy a treat.

What do butterflies eat besides nectar?


Butterflies drink dew and rainwater from leaves and pools that collect water.


Butterflies love fruit! The beautiful sweet smelling fruit blossoms help to bring them in and many butterflies will also stay to drink the fruit juices. Butterflies enjoy eating/drinking find-over rip or even rotting fruit. 

Some of their favorite fruits are

  • apples
  • bananas
  • pears
  • peaches
  • oranges
  • lemons
  • limes
  • grapes
  • cherries
  • watermelon

All of these fruits would be a great addition to a Butterfly feeder or to give a butterfly that needs a little TLC.

I bet you’re wondering if butterflies eat fermented fruit can butterflies get drunk?

Yes, butterflies can and do get drunk. In fact, according to National Geographic  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/151121-animals-science-drunk-insects-mammals-drinking  male Butterflies will even seek out beer or wine as a nuptial gift for the female. 

Drunk butterflies tend to stay in one spot and relax.  Butterflies motion sensors go numb which makes it easier to pick them up.

Butterflies also eat mud, tree sap, and fruit which gives them a range of vitamins and minerals

Tree sap

Is also a wonderful sweet energy treat for some butterflies in fact some butterflies prefer tree sap to nectar flowers. 

Northern Pearly-eye, Tawny Emperor, Mourning Cloak, Little Wood Satyr, Hackberry Emperor, Common Wood-Nymph, and Question Mark are just a few butterflies that really love tree sap as the main part of their diet.

As great as tree sap is it can be a bit hard for the butterflies to get at since they have no teeth. They rely on animals, insects, or heat to expose the sap for them.


Most butterflies will get pollen dust on their bodies and legs as they go from flower to flower drinking nectar. But there is one butterfly called the Zebra butterfly that will actually eat the pollen that gets on its proboscis. Pollen is solid dust so the Zebra Butterfly actually excretes saliva to dissolve the pollen particles.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Yup that’s right some Butterflies do feast on blood sweat and tears sounds pretty gross but that’s not all. Butterflies will also eat:

  • rotting flesh/ dead carcasses
  • poop
  • urine
  • mud

Butterflies get salts and amino acids and other nutrients not found in nectar. This is especially important for male butterflies for sperm production and pheromones. This behavior is called “mud puddling” or puddling.  


Butterflies’ favorite food is nectar try adding a few more flowers around your home or garden area. Also, think about the butterflies before removing some of those “weeds” like dandelions, clovers and milkweed they are a great food source for hungry butterflies and other pollinators.

Monarch eating fruit on a hand

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Butterfly on flower moth on tree