What and how to feed an adult butterfly

Sheri Moreau sheri at butterflywings.com
Fri Jul 23 12:49:03 EDT 1999

I have Butterfly flowers/bushes in my yard.  But what can I feed - sugar water
doesn't sound very nutritious.  Is there a nectar that I can make that's
for them?
Buddleia (butterfly bush) is one of the very best nectar sources there is:
custom designed for a butterfly's health, you might say!  If you're keeping
butterflies in captivity, and wanting to feed them on artificial nectar
sources, sugar water may not sound nutritious to you, but to a short lived
butterfly, it's exactly what they need. You can further supplement with
scored fruit slices, such as apples, watermelon, banana, other melons,
strawberries, etc. Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) absolutely MUST have
a variety of fruit to provide them with the nutrients they need for their
longer life. You can also feed them grape Gatorade and/or Koala kiwi/orange
drink, believe it or not!
Bear in mind that many adult moths don't eat at all (the Saturnidae family
of wild silk moths, for example) and have no or only vestigial mouth parts.
Feed them 20% sugar or fructose water (some people say 10% is okay) with a
scanty drop of yellow or red food coloring. Specifically, one part ordinary
white sugar + 4 parts water. Don't use tap water: use purchased drinking
water. DON'T use honey water--it ferments rapidly and grows harmful
bacteria. You can also buy premixed butterfly nectar powder in any Nature
Company and many Wild Birds Unlimited stores that supposedly has extra
nutrients added.
(Before you start into the directions in the next paragraph: What kind of
butterfly are you trying to feed, and how are you containing it, anyhow? If
it is a Painted Lady or other small butterfly, DON'T PICK IT UP!! Simply
confine it in a large, walk-in enclosure {mine is 625 square feet} or if
you must, a netted cage or a large Kritter Keeper or aquarium with the
feeder, and nudge it over to the feeder. Smaller butterflies figure out
feeding dishes on their own. Swallowtails and Monarchs usually won't, but
since they're bigger butterflies with strong wings, it's okay to pick them
up.  Butterflies kept in large, walk-in enclosures will find the artificial
feeders on their own. It's the ones in smaller confined spaces that get
disoriented and never locate the feeder and eventually starve to death.)
To make a butterfly feeder suitable for 1-3 butterflies: Take the plastic
screw-off lid from a bottle of water (or similar size bottle) and rinse it
out, and turn it open side up and insert a cotton ball. Add the nectar
solution. Pick up the butterfly and put its feet on the saturated cotton
ball (butterflies taste with their feet). If it's hungry enough, it may get
the idea, but sometimes you have to show it that there's really food in
this non-flower-looking device! While still holding the butterfly's wings
closed with its feet on the cotton ball, use a toothpick to gently unroll
the proboscis (curly tongue) and touch it to the cotton ball. That's
generally all it takes, and you can let go of the wings. You will actually
be able to observe the abdomen get plumper. A skinny, wrinkled abdomen
means you butterfly is near death from starvation.
Good luck!!
Sheri <sheri at butterflywings.com>

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