How Do Butterflies Eat? (Video)

You know they drink nectar from flowers, but how exactly do butterflies eat? Find out in this video.

Watching butterflies eat as they flit from flower to flower in your garden is relaxing and fun. If you’re lucky enough to be able to get close, you can study them as they dip their proboscis into each flower in search of nectar. Getting close to butterflies can be tricky, though, so here are some photos and video to help you see the actions of these beautiful insects up close.

How Butterflies Eat Giant ST

What’s a Proboscis? (Pronounced “Pro-bah-skiss” or “Pro-bah-siss”) Butterflies do not have mouths. Instead, they have a proboscis extending from the front of their head, a straw-like tube that coils up when not in use. Butterflies eat by extending the proboscis deep into a flower to sip nectar. Butterflies also use the proboscis to drink water and juice from rotting fruits.

How Butterflies Eat Zebra Longwing

In this video, you can see the Julia Longwing butterfly probe into the penta flowers with its proboscis. The butterfly reaches all the way to the bottom of the trumpet-shaped flower to find the nectar at the very bottom. It moves from flower to flower, efficiently extracting all the nectar possible before moving on.

More than nectar. Many butterflies eat only nectar and fruit. This is the nutritional equivalent of a human attempting to live on only sugary soda. Although nectar is high in calories to power the butterfly through its short life-cycle, it is low in nutrients, so most butterflies live only a few weeks. Some butterflies, like Zebra Longwings, have a special adaptation that allows them to live much longer.

Butterflies Eat Zebra Longwing Pollen
Note the yellow pollen on the coiled proboscis of this Zebra Longwing.

Zebra Longwing butterflies collect pollen on the outside of their proboscis, and excrete stomach acids through the proboscis onto the gathered pollen. After the process of external digestion is complete, the Zebra Longwing drinks down the liquefied pollen which is rich in nutrients. This special diet allows the Zebra Longwing butterfly to live a whopping six to nine months as an adult butterfly.

Need help attracting butterflies to your yard? Click here!

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.