What Do Butterflies Eat?

We often get asked, “What do butterflies eat?”. . .

Butterflies eat (drink or sip) nectar through a straw-like mouth part called a proboscis  (pro-boss-kiss). Nectar is a sugar rich liquid produced by flowering plants like cosmos, verbena, zinnias, butterfly bush and yarrow.  There are thousands of flowers that butterflies can obtain nectar from.

Along with nectar, the male butterfly also needs a variety of minerals, which they acquire by sipping on ripe or rotting fruit, tree sap, piles of manure or mud.  This typical butterfly behavior is called puddling.

If you have butterflies in a cage or enclosure for more than a day, they will need to be fed.  They can be fed a variety of ripe juicy fruits, like watermelon, melons, oranges, cherries, strawberries, peaches and plums. Caged butterflies will also enjoy sipping on Gatorade and homemade nectar.   You can make your own butterfly nectar by mixing 4 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar.  Boil the mixture for a few minutes then be sure to allow the sugar mixture to cool before feeding butterflies.  Use cotton balls soaked with either the homemade nectar or Gatorade and placed on a small plate.  If the enclosure is large enough, you can also place a few potted flowering butterfly nectar plants inside to keep the butterflies happy and well fed.

To help keep male butterflies happy and enticing to female butterflies in your garden or enclosure, be sure to include a “puddling” area.  This can be done by place smooth round stones in a shallow dish along with some mud or wet soil.

If you know of a certain flower, fruit or other sweet treat that butterflies seem to love, please share your knowledge with our readers and leave us a comment below.

Enjoy the butterflies,


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16 Responses to What Do Butterflies Eat?
  1. Jenny
    May 2, 2019 | 4:08 pm

    Hi, I found a butterfly by the side of the road, and thought it was dead, but when I touched it found it very much alive. There is a storm coming so I guess today I saved it’s life! I have put on nature music, given it water, and two clovers, but climbed up on an ornate metal basket where I put it near a jar with house plant clipping I am trying to get to root. It’s wing is a bit bent, but I am leaving it alone and it seems to be going into sleep mode. It is near evening. I was checking to find out on line what to do

  2. Karyl
    June 16, 2018 | 3:13 pm

    What is the best way to keep ants off the fruit? I have pieces of fruit in a suet cage for butterflies and hummingbirds, but ants think it is for them. Any suggestions?!

  3. Fluttershy Plays
    June 11, 2018 | 2:25 pm

    hi i was driving home and saw something moving around in the road and realized it was a butter fly. he wasnt able to really fly and when i hold him he sits on my hand and i can see his wing looks a bit ripped. im going to try to give him or her honey. also how can i tell if its a male or female? and would it be ok to just mix some sugar in water?

  4. Riley
    January 11, 2018 | 11:28 am

    Great post. I’ve found that oranges in particular work well, though outdoors you can see them ‘eating’ all sorts of sweet things. Sometimes I even see them working on some tree sap! 🙂

  5. Morgan Cainzares
    September 29, 2015 | 2:51 pm

    I found an injured butterfly on the side walk. It wont fly so I made a shelter for it. It’s wing is bleeding, I think it is torn. I am only 11 and hope to be a vet someday, but I’m not so experienced on butterflies. What should I do about it’s wing? Should I feed it? Will it need any special things? Please reply quickly, I don’t want it to die.

    • OWB
      November 25, 2015 | 12:28 pm

      Hi thank you for saving the butterfly, you did the right thing. Give it shelter from predators and feed it fresh fruit until it lives out its life. Thank you Morgan!

  6. cally
    August 31, 2013 | 4:46 pm

    Im trying to get a butterfly garden inside my room.do you know how to do it

    • OWB
      October 21, 2013 | 1:58 pm

      Hi Cally, if you are trying to raise butterflies indoors, you can feed them a variety of the following ideas: Fresh fruit, Gatorade, nectar rich flowers and a sugar water mixture that you can make yourself with a teaspoon of sugar mixed with 10 teaspoons of water. Good luck!

    • Phill Eat
      April 22, 2016 | 1:59 pm

      Or you can use plants that attract butterflies, I found info about butterfly drinks and garden here: https://abutterflyrelease.com/blog/what-do-butterflies-eat/

  7. ambergambler
    September 3, 2012 | 6:28 am

    hi umm me and my sister were gonna make a butterfly trap to catch them and i want to know wat they eat cos we have some plums that were gonna use but we dont know if that will work if anyone knows if they can eat plums and then please reply cos were only young

    • OWB
      September 17, 2012 | 9:16 am

      Hi, yes, plums would work as well as watermelon and oranges. You could try a cotton ball soaked in Gatorade also. Good luck, Vickie

  8. Mary
    March 18, 2011 | 6:50 am

    this is a great website and i am glad i used it for my school project!

    • ambergambler
      September 3, 2012 | 6:29 am

      hi if it came in good use to u do u know if butterflys eat plums

      • OWB
        September 17, 2012 | 9:14 am

        Yes, butterflies like most fruits and plums is one of them.

  9. OWB
    October 22, 2010 | 10:31 pm

    Wow Adam, great job! Watch this inspiring video about a sixteen year old Boy, Adam, who built a Butterfly Garden for his Boy Scout Eagle Project. http://hummingbirdbirdfeeder.net/south-florida-boy-scout-creates-a-butterfly-garden-for-eagle-project-at-an-elementary-school.htm

  10. South Florida Boy Scout
    October 22, 2010 | 10:08 pm

    South Florida Boy Scout Creates a Butterfly Garden for Eagle Project at an Elementary School ~ Sixteen-year-old Adam Fabiano, a high school junior at College Academy at Broward Community College, envisioned a project that would be both appealing and educational to children. His objectives were achieved on Saturday, April 10, 2010, after he completed making a butterfly garden at Sunset Lakes Elementary School in Miramar, Florida, for his Eagle Scout Project.

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