Disgusting Butterfly Eating Habits

Sometimes butterflies can be downright disgusting, especially male butterflies. Before you get upset with me, let me explain.

Male butterflies need salts and amino acids because it is believed these nutrients help aid their reproductive success. The dissolved salts and minerals are used to make sperm as well as pheromones that the males use to attract females. So male butterflies will congregate on wet sand and mud to absorb these minerals through their proboscis, the tube-like feeding structure of the butterfly (i.e., the proboscis, equated to a “tongue”). This behavior is called “mud-puddling” or simply “puddling”.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) gather to feed on a mineral deposit alongside the Nolichucky River, Tennessee. Photo by J.P. Lawrence.

They not only like to sip from wet sand and mud, but male butterflies can also be found feeding on animal feces and even the rotting corpses of dead animals. That’s right! It drives them wild. They uncoil their proboscis and slurp away, lapping up the salts and amino acids they can’t get from flowers. Think of this behavior as going to the local pub to enjoy imbibing with mates.

Butterflies on elephant dung – Kaeng Krachan Photo by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/)
A trick many professional butterfly photographers use to attract butterflies is to urinate on a dead fish. Seriously. I understand that butterflies especially like human urine because of the high salt content. When the butterflies are puddling, they are so absorbed in what they are doing that it makes it easier to approach them and get closer to them without them flying away.

Animal poop is full of all kinds of helpful nutrients, which butterflies will feast upon when given the chance.

Rotting animal flesh is a huge butterfly favorite, so much so that researchers have begun baiting tropical butterfly traps with shrimp heads, chunks of a dead snake, and prawn paste. “Traps were baited and checked for cycles of five days, with extra bait added each day to ensure a range of decay,” wrote one scientist in her report. Butterfly researchers really don’t get enough credit. (See http://mentalfloss.com/article/63521/7-disgusting-things-butterflies-eat)

Click here or on the photo below to learn how to make a puddling station in your butterfly garden.

Front and top views of a ceramic birdbath converted into a butterfly puddling station. Click Here to view an assortment of bird baths for your garden.