Butterflies and moths, although similar in appearance, belong to different species. Butterflies and moths belonging to the class Insecta are from the order Lepidoptera.
The most visible differences between butterflies and moths lie in their antennae, mouthparts, and wings and the number of feathery appendages at the end of their bodies called prolegs, which help them climb plants.
The differences between butterflies and moths also extend to their behavior. If asked whether butterflies eat moths? the answer is No. they may be dead moths as they are attracted to decaying matter, but they do not eat moths alive.
What do butterflies eat?
The short answer to what do butterflies eat is that they can drink the sap from plants, suck up the nectar from flowers, eat fruit, and lap up other kinds of flora, like leaves. Butterflies are known to lap up mud which helps their system by clearing impurities.
Adult butterflies usually only live for about two weeks, but it’s during that time that they become one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet. During this time, they also need to eat as much as possible so they can maintain their short life span and travel great distances to find a mate to lay eggs with before they die.
Butterflies can actually feed off of dead animals and rotting meat. They also enjoy pollen, tree sap, or even animal droppings in certain circumstances where they may be desperate for food.
What do monarchs eat?
Monarchs do not actually feed on nectar but rather a mix of minerals found in milkweed. When they’re caterpillars, their favorite snack is leaves from milkweed plants.
Plants belonging to the Asclepias genus — of milkweed — are the only plants that monarch caterpillars will eat. When they hatch, they’ll find a leaf and start chowing down.
When a monarch caterpillar eats milkweed, it also gets a dose of these toxins. But over time, the monarch can get rid of the toxins and start to taste good again to predators. Even so, many animals have learned to avoid eating monarchs because they know they will get sick!
Once a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it will feed on nectar from various flowers, including asters, goldenrods, and zinnias. Monarch butterflies also enjoy drinking from mud puddles, which helps them obtain minerals that are critical for reproduction.
Do butterflies eat leaves?
Another common myth is that butterflies only consume liquids, mainly nectar. Like most creatures, they’re actually omnivores—they eat a variety of things. Butterflies use their tongues to lap up nectar and water; they also drink dew off plants and collect it with a sponge-like organ called a basipetal gland on their lower legs.
But yes, they do also get some nutrients from leaves and other parts of plants (although not as much as you might think). Eating these leafy meals is an efficient way for caterpillars to pack on mass before spinning their cocoons—they need a lot of nutrients to survive metamorphosis.
For example, the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) eats parsley and carrots as larvae; the monarch (Danaus plexippus) primarily consumes milkweed; and the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia) eats walnut, hickory, and birch trees.
While butterflies may not eat moths alive, they are more attracted to the smell of decomposing matter in an effort to find a mate. This is why butterflies will often be seen feeding on dead moth bodies. Since the smell is attracted to the butterflies, they will then lay their eggs around this so that the larva can feed off of the decaying body as well.