What Do Butterflies Eat?

Butterfly on a flower

Fluttering through the air, butterflies captivate us with their delicate beauty and grace. They are a symbol of elegance and transformation, and their presence in our gardens brings joy to children and adults alike. If you are an enthusiast looking to create a butterfly-friendly garden that attracts these charming creatures, you have come to the right place!

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the fascinating world of butterfly diets, the best nectar sources, and the various butterfly species you can attract with the right plants. So, let's get started!

What Do Butterflies Eat?


A butterflies diet depends on the species, but most butterflies native to Europe, such as the Common Brimstone and moths, feed on nectar. They use their mouthpart, the proboscis, which acts as a straw and curls up between meals, allowing them to access nectar from various plants. This unique feeding mechanism makes butterflies essential pollinators for many plant species.

Butterflies generally forage for food between March and April, although some species overwinter in the UK. From November to February, you may spot Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, and Peacock butterflies, as well as Twenty-plume and Red-green Carpet moths. These species typically hibernate during winter, but they may emerge during unusually warm weather.

It's worth noting that not all butterflies and moths have the same diet. Some species, like the Emperor moth, have stunted proboscises and do not eat during their short lifespan. Others feed on plant juices, fallen fruit, or honeydew secreted by aphids. In tropical regions, some exotic butterfly species even consume tears, sweat, or blood! However, these feeding habits are not common in Europe.

Top Nectar Sources for Attracting Butterflies

To create a butterfly-friendly garden, it's crucial to provide a variety of plants that cater to different butterfly species. Here are some popular plants that you can include in your garden:

Alfalfa, Red Clover, and Thistles

These plants are favored by Painted Lady butterflies. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), and Thistles (Carduus acanthoides) provide an excellent nectar source for these beautiful creatures.

Purple Loosestrife and Centaurea

Common Brimstone butterflies are attracted to Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and plants from the Centaurea genus. Including these in your garden will increase the chances of spotting these charming butterflies.

Hedge Bindweed and Phlox

Hawk moths have long proboscises, which they use to access the hidden nectar of Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) and Phlox (Phlox). Planting these species will attract these incredible moths to your garden.

Butterfly-friendly Generalists

Some plants are popular with multiple butterfly species, such as Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Dock (Rumex), and Dandelion (Taraxacum). Including these in your garden will attract a wider range of butterflies.

If designing your own plant mix seems overwhelming, you can opt for a ready-to-go seed mixture to ensure you have a diverse array of butterfly-friendly plants.

Perennial Plants for Butterfly-friendly Gardens

In addition to annual plants, you can also grow perennial plants to attract butterflies. Some popular options include:

Willow and Sloe

Willow (Salix) and Sloe (Prunus spinosa) are excellent choices for attracting butterflies to your garden. They provide both nectar and shelter for these captivating creatures.

Blueberries and Lilacs

Butterflies also enjoy feeding on the nectar of Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and Lilacs (Buddleja). Planting these in your garden will not only attract butterflies but also provide you with beautiful flowers and delicious fruit.

The more diverse your garden, the more butterfly species you will attract.

Butterfly Hydration: What Do They Drink?

You might be wondering what butterflies drink after feasting on all that nectar. In fact, butterflies obtain most of their hydration and nutrients by absorbing liquid nectar and other plant juices. Only on particularly hot days or when they need to balance their mineral intake do butterflies visit small puddles for additional hydration.

Can You Feed Butterflies?

While it's best for butterflies to gather their food from natural sources, there may be times when you find an exhausted butterfly that needs a quick energy boost. In such cases, you can provide a temporary solution by dissolving one part sugar in four parts water, dipping a clean sponge in the solution, and allowing the butterfly to suck out the liquid using its proboscis.

Avoid using bowls or plates with sugar water, as the liquid could stick to the butterfly's wings and cause them to stick together. Instead, offer an orange slice placed on a kitchen towel to absorb excess juice and prevent any damage to the butterfly's wings. The butterfly will quickly suck out the sweet fruit juice and regain its energy.

Final Thoughts on Creating Butterfly-friendly Gardens

Creating a butterfly-friendly garden is a rewarding endeavor that allows you to enjoy the mesmerizing beauty of these delicate creatures. By understanding their diet and providing a diverse range of nectar sources, you can attract various butterfly species and contribute to their conservation. With this comprehensive guide in hand, you are now well-equipped to transform your garden into a haven for these enchanting pollinators. Happy gardening!