The Thirsty Butterfly

To survive in the wild, creatures come up with intriguing strategies. My favourite creatures, butterflies, have some aces up their sleeves as they live their lives.

Published: 17th December 2013 12:36 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th December 2013 12:36 PM   |  A+A-


To survive in the wild, creatures come up with intriguing strategies. My favourite creatures, butterflies, have some aces up their sleeves as they live their lives. Adult butterflies feed using a tube-like mouth part called the proboscis. Unlike what most people believe, butterflies don’t only feed on flower nectar. They have a wide range of tastes just like humans, and feed on different kinds of food.

Food items that are very much a part of the butterfly’s menu include bird and animal droppings, rotting fruit, human sweat, rotting animal carcasses like dead fish, crab, snakes and even mammals. If we can have likes and dislikes for food, why can’t butterflies?

Another dish on the butterfly’s menu that is preferred by many species are minerals in moist soil. Male butterflies of many species congregate, sometimes up to a hundred of them. Most of these males are freshly emerged from their pupa, and are feeding on moist soil to gather minerals such as sodium salts. While this phenomenon is not fully understood, it is believed that the males gather sodium salts, which they pass on to females during mating and this is supposed to increase the chances of successful reproduction.

Not only do butterflies have varying tastes in food, they also have different food habits. For example, a butterfly called the chocolate demon has the longest proboscis among butterflies, allowing it to reach into long-necked flowers to feed.

Many butterflies love to feed near kitchens where waste food is readily available, especially in villages and campsites near forest edges.

Butterflies adopt funky strategies to feed. On many occasions, they find food on a dry patch of soil or rock, but they cannot access it, as they can only ‘drink’ their food through their proboscis. They cannot feed at a spot where there is no moisture. Hence, butterflies have come up with a unique feeding strategy. They eject a drop of water from their own body to wet the soil or rock and then feed on the moist spot! A butterfly called the large yeoman (see pic) is particularly adept at this. So it drops a blob of water from the tip of its abdomen and then drinks up! And it will continue to do this till its hunger is satiated. Sounds yucky, doesn’t it? ‘But hungry hai to kuch bhi karega!’

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