Butterflies are nectarivores, which means that their diet consists of nectar from flowers. They are able to extract the nectar using their long proboscis (tongue). While feeding on the nectar, butterflies also collect pollen on their body, which they spread to other flowers as they move about.
Butterflies are not decomposers, but their (or their larvae) may act as scavengers. Butterflies also feed on fruit juice and tree sap. In some cases, such as when migrating or during times of bad weather, butterflies may even feed on rotting fruit, insects or animal dung!
Butterflies have a very diverse diet, which is one of the reasons why they are such successful pollinators. They will feed on just about anything sweet, including nectar from flowers, honeydew from aphids, fruit juice, and tree sap.
Butterflies are found in gardens, meadows, and forests. They prefer areas with lots of flowers that they can use for nectar.
In some cases, such as when migrating or during colder times of bad weather, butterflies are more likely to feed on alternative food sources!
Primary Diet of the Butterfly
Butterflies are mostly herbivores that eat nectar from flowers. They also drink fruit juice from ripe fruits.
Some of the flowers that butterflies eat nectar from are:
- Queen Anne’s lace
Butterflies use their long tongues to lap up nectar from flowers. Nectar is a sugary liquid that butterflies need for energy. Fruit juice is also a source of sugar for butterflies.
However, butterflies have a number of different diets, as varied as their habitats.
Can any Butterflies be Considered Decomposers?
No butterflies are decomposers, but some moth larvae may eat decomposing animal matter. These caterpillars feed on decaying organic matter and some are parasitoids, eating other insects.
However, some butterflies like the Blue Morpho, the Red Admiral and the Viceroy butterflies may occasionally suck out liquids from soil, faeces or dying animals e.g. exposed blood for the minerals and other nutrients present.
This behaviour may be considered scavenging, but it is not the primary feeding behaviour of these butterflies, which is still nectar from flowers when available.
Can Butterflies be Carnivores?
Butterflies are primarily herbivores. They live on plant roots, stems, leaves, seeds, nectar, fruits, wood and other plant parts.
But some butterflies are omnivores and these butterflies are considered secondary consumers because they or their caterpillers also eat animals.
Carnivorous butterflies feed on other insects. They generally feed at night. They have long, curved, sucking proboscises, which are used to pierce the skin of their victims. The proboscis is retracted when not in use.
One butterfly, the harvester butterfly, is carnivorous and it feeds primarily on aphids!
Whereas the caterpillars of butterflies may be omnivores, very few are purely carnivorous. But some caterpillars and butterflies actually eat flies and aphids!
There are about 160 species of Lepidoptera, or butterflies and moths, that are carnivorous. They belong to four families: the skippers, the butterflies, the satyrs and the owl butterflies.
The skippers are a group of small, stout butterflies, usually with drab brown or grey wings. The caterpillars feed on plants, while the adults feed on other insects, especially mosquitoes, aphids and gnats.
The satyrs, or wood-nymphs, are a group of small, brightly coloured butterflies. The caterpillars feed on plants, while the adults feed on other insects, especially ants.
The owl butterflies, or owlet moths, are a group of small (wingspan 20-25 mm), brightly coloured butterflies. The caterpillars feed on plants, while the adults feed on other insects, especially ants.
Are Butterflies Producers or Consumers?
Butterflies are consumers. Butterflies get their energy by eating either plants or, rarely, primary consumers such as other insects. Butterflies, therefore, are consumers, not producers.
What Type of Consumer is a Butterfly?
Butterflies are mostly primary consumers because they eat primarily plants, but some butterflies also eat insects and are therefore secondary consumers. Generally, herbivores are primary consumers, omnivores are secondary consumers and carnivores are tertiary consumers.
Where are Butterflies in the Food Chain?
Most butterflies are primary consumers because they are herbivores so these are located just above producers (plants) in the food chain. Decomposers create the foundation of the energy pyramid and are placed at the very bottom of the food pyramid.
Are Butterflies Autotrophs or Heterotrophs?
Butterflies are heterotrophs because they eat other living organisms. Practically (almost) no animals are autotrophic because animals do not get their energy directly from the sun like plants do. That is, animals like the butterfly cannot make their own energy, but need to eat other organisms as their energy and carbon source.
What Animals Hunt and Eat Butterflies?
Butterflies are preyed upon by a variety of insects, spiders, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds, fish and other animals.
In this blog post I have looked into the diet of the butterfly as an animal that is rarely thought about on a day to day basis.
Butterflies are a group of insects that are often considered as beautiful, but their diet is actually quite different to what we think of as a typical insect diet!
Butterflies are not only beautiful, but they are also an important pollinator of many plants and flowers. Butterflies are also important for the health of ecosystems because they act as a natural pest control.
Butterflies are also a very important food source for other animals, including birds and mammals.
Butterflies are usually a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem because they are sensitive to pollution and a well kept garden can house more than 10 species of butterflies!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and I do encourage you to look into my other articles on this blog for more exciting facts about wildlife and animal diets!