Butterflies where they live and what they eat

Butterflies where they live and what they eat

With graceful flight and colorful wings, butterflies are among the insects most acclaimed by society due to their beauty. However, beyond their outward beauty, these delicate creatures keep very interesting secrets.

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Do you want to know more about these excellent flying creatures? From EcologíaVerde we present to you the characteristics of the butterflies that will surprise you the most, since most of you probably do not know them, for example, where the butterflies live and what they eat, some of their physical aspects, some species and more curiosities.

Characteristics of butterflies

To start talking about the characteristics of butterflies and various aspects of them, we will first locate them as living beings. These belong to the most abundant animal group, that of insects, and as such, they are arthropods, that is, their bodies are divided into three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen.

Likewise, within the group of insects, butterflies are Lepidoptera, the fourth most diverse group in many species, whose main characteristic is centered on having wings with scales. Finally, these beautiful beings are holometabolous, or what is the same, their development is based on four phases: embryo, caterpillar or larva, pupa, and adult.

Physical Characteristics of Butterflies

Physically, these colorful insects have a pair of long antennae, compound eyes, six legs, sensory hairs, and two large wings. It is in the thorax where flight activity is controlled and from where those characteristic wings are born, which can only take flight if the butterfly’s body temperature exceeds 30 degrees.

The main function of these flight mechanisms is focused on regulating the body temperature of the butterflies, as well as being allied as signaling and courtship tactics during mating times. The striking colors of these wings are due to the diffraction and refraction of light that occurs in their scales, full of colors thanks to the pigmentation. Unfortunately, as butterflies age, they lose color.

To get to know them better, we recommend reading these other EcologíaVerde articles on the Parts of the butterfly and the Differences between diurnal and nocturnal butterflies.

Where the butterflies live

These creatures’ typical habitat is centered primarily on tropical areas with warm weather virtually the entire year round and lush flora, which serves as their primary food source. The tropics are where you can find a greater variety of species.

On the contrary, in temperate regions, the number of species decreases as latitude increases, with few that can withstand cold temperatures. However, butterflies are so geographically diversified that Antarctica is the only continent where no Lepidoptera species can be found.

What do butterflies eat?

Due to their gnawing mouthparts, these insects consume nearly any plant material throughout their time as caterpillars, including stems, leaves, and flowers, although they can also take advantage of various foods that humans have harvested and processed, such as flour, grains, or seeds. Once mature, butterflies suck up pollen, nectar, and fungal spores through their licking-sucking mouthparts, which we could commonly say is the butterfly tongue, technically called e spiritrompa or spiral proboscis.

However, according to the type of food they have, butterflies can be divided into three groups: polyphagous, oligophagous, and monophagous.

  • Polyphagous: their diet is very varied. The caterpillars do not disown almost any type of plant.
  • Oligophagous: in this case, the butterflies only accept certain types of plants that correspond to a specific family, type, or genus.

Manophagous: the most specialized only take one type of food, either a specific species or even a certain part of it, such as selected leaves, fruits, etc. Although this type is less common, there are monophagous species that see their existence conditioned by the specific type of food they eat, so if that food disappears, they will too.

In this other article, we discover the Plants and flowers that attract butterflies.

What do monarch butterflies eat?

Monarch butterflies ( Danaus plexippus ) are easy to identify by the bright orange color of their wings, edged with black veins and decorated with white polka dots.

Since the leaves of the tree with the same name are what this species feeds on as a caterpillar, it is known as the milkweed butterfly. What do adult monarch butterflies eat? Their diet is based on the nectar of flowers, especially those that come from the milkweed tree itself, in addition to the Spanish flag, the blood flower, or the Maria herb ( Asclepias curassavica ).

What do silk butterflies eat?

The butterfly or silkworm ( Bombyx mori ) is a species capable of producing silk during the caterpillar or larva phase. This type of butterfly feeds on mulberry leaves, a tree native to the Asian continent. It is common for the larvae to die of starvation since the eggs often hatch when the leaves of the trees have not yet sprouted. Following the reproduction of silkworms, once the individuals have become adult butterflies, they quickly seek to mate before dying.

Common Foods in Butterflies

These foods are the most common and preferred among butterflies and now we will mention each one of them and the reason why these insects love them and prefer them, being the most practical, easy, and beautiful choice for them at all times.


Butterflies now prefer pollen as their preferred food. They can select the flowers or plants from which to collect pollen based on smell or the flower’s extravagance, such as its shape and color. Since the butterfly consumes sugar while pollinating flowers, this could affect the environment to be said that it is as beneficial for the flower as it is for the butterfly.


Butterflies have a certain delirium for fruits which must be in the process of decomposition to acquire their liquids full of sugar, nutrients, and water which they can absorb through Fruits, which are the butterflies’ second most dependable and frequent food source after their trunk, are a very simple, wholesome, and practical source.

The sap of Trees and Plants

According to the type of butterfly, it will select the plant, tree, and leaf from which it will feed. Trees and plants frequently exude liquids known as sap, which butterflies use to feed themselves. that some species are very picky when choosing what they will eat, some butterflies can eat a variety of plants, and also butterflies can only eat one type of plant, leaf, or tree for their entire lives without exception.

human sweat

Butterflies have a great weakness for salt and people’s sweat contains high levels of mineral salt that butterflies can feel, so this is why some butterflies can land on some People’s skin, which can be acquired, will only need to be perched in the desired location for a short period to absorb sweat painlessly. They will search for any liquid that is high in sodium, and since human sweat contains vast quantities of it, a drop will be sufficient for a feast.

Animal Waste

The vast majority of nutrients found in animal waste are of vital importance to butterflies, but they are also typically picky about the types of manure they choose to eat. They prefer wet, recently dumped, bone-fresh manure because it allows them to absorb the nutrients more effectively than dry manure that has been dumped for several days.

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The nectar of various flowers, which they frequently select using their sense of smell, leaves, and fruits—their favorite or most popular ones typically being watermelon and banana—are what most butterflies eat on average. The reality is that each species has preferences for choosing its type of leaf or food, so we will briefly discuss the main types of species and their diets in a few situations of some species of feces and some corpses.

Food according to the type of butterfly

Two types of butterflies are the main representation of all the types of butterflies that exist, so we will be guided by them to explain a little more about their diet.

monarch butterfly

Since they eat on Asclepius when they are still larvae, the Asclepius contain poison that not only nourishes it but also deters its predators from approaching it, making it lethal, they are well known due to the material they absorb in their diet. Their popularity is also attributed to them due to the massive emigration they make from Mexico to California, being a huge number of butterflies that decide to undertake a great journey together.

The monarch caterpillars are very selective when choosing which plant they will eat since they only choose milky leaves to feed themselves, this plant is full of toxins that the Caterpillar absorbs almost totally, making it nearly untouchable for the rest of its life. This is typically quite uncomfortable for predators and can lead to health issues like vomiting in them.

Mariposa Morpho

At first, when they are small, morpho butterflies prefer to opt for plants, peas being particularly their favorite. Later, as they grow, they prefer to opt for the nectar of the fruit, mud, excrement of different animals, or the sap that may contain various trees and plants. Due to the loss of its teeth throughout the growth process, which prevents it from being able to ground its food, this butterfly can only consume liquids and liquid-based diets. From Central America to South America, they can be found. 

How butterflies reproduce

During the courtship season of butterflies, they locate each other by flapping their wings and smelling and using their precious wings for seduction. After mating, the females deposit hundreds of whitish, yellow, or green eggs in sheltered places with abundant vegetation.

At birth, the small caterpillars protect themselves from predators, feed on plants, and later transform into pupae or chrysalises, a period in which they do not feed and undergo great changes. Butterflies then emerge with their colorful well-formed wings ready to fly.

Butterfly metamorphosis

  1. Egg: mainly laid on some leaf.
  2. Caterpillar or larva: during this period, the larva continuously supplies itself with leaves and flowers, it does not stop eating until it doubles its size several times.
  3. Pupa: In this stage, the chrysalis or pupa remains covered and at rest.
  4. Adults: this is when the butterfly emerges as an adult, flies, and continues the cycle until it reproduces. Learn more about the life cycle of a butterfly with this other post from EcologíaVerde.

Learn more about this process that occurs in various animals by reading this other article on What is metamorphosis.

Butterfly species

There are thought to be roughly 200,000 species of butterflies and moths, even though only about 130,000 of them have been described. Unfortunately, it is possible that at the rate we are going, we will never be able to meet the rest of the hitherto unknown species, because these animals, as is the case with many others, are seeing their populations reduced by human impact.

The following are a few of the most unexpected butterfly species:

  • Monarch butterfly ( Danaus plexippus ): Considered the “king of butterflies”, it is one of the most famous. In quest of warmth, this species migrates from Canada and the eastern United States to Mexico and California. Learn more about this species by reading these posts about The Monarch Butterfly Migration and Why the Monarch Butterfly is in Danger of Extinction.
  • Vanessa cardui butterfly ( Vanessa cardui ): This butterfly is found in many parts of the world, including Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. It is among the best dispersed because of this.
  • Owl Butterfly ( Caligo ): This amazing butterfly is one of the largest in existence. It can be discovered in Central and South American tropical forests. Get to know it more by reading this article about the Owl Butterfly: characteristics, habitat, and feeding.
  • Zebra butterfly ( Heliconius charithonia ): This common butterfly is distinguished by its black and white stripes and is endemic to tropical areas of America.
  • Ulysses butterfly ( Papilio Ulysses ): of Australian origin, this butterfly is also called the blue mountain butterfly.
  • Transparent or glass butterfly ( Greta oto ) – In this case, this glass-like butterfly can be spotted in Central America.
  • Leaf Butterfly ( Gastropacha quercifolia ) – Endemic to the Canary Islands, this species is strikingly leaf-like.
  • Morpho butterfly ( Morpho ): a beautiful tropical butterfly endemic to Central America and the Antilles. Here you can get to know better Morpho butterfly: characteristics, habitat, and feeding.
  • Lemon Butterfly ( Gonepteryx rhamni ) – Bright yellow, this butterfly can be seen in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
  • Peacock butterfly ( Aglais io ): This lovely type is distributed in Europe and North Asia.
  • Skull butterfly ( Acherontia atropos ): This strange species has a pattern on its thorax in a shape that reminds us of a human skull. It lives widely in Africa, the Middle East, and the coastal and island areas of the Mediterranean Sea. You can learn more about it here Acherontia atropos or skull butterfly: characteristics, habitat, and feeding.

How long do butterflies live?

You already know where and what food butterflies eat, as well as how they reproduce. Next, we talk about their life expectancy.

The lifespan of butterflies is difficult to determine, since it depends on many factors, such as climate, food, and species. Also, if egg laying occurs before the cold season, the larvae do not hatch until temperatures rise again. On the other hand, some species of adult butterflies migrate during the winter. In addition to the environment, predators such as birds and other insects pose a severe threat to butterflies, seriously interfering with their natural life cycle.

Bearing this in mind, it is possible to affirm that the smallest species can live between 5 and 7 days, 9 if the climate is favorable and food is abundant. Low temperatures will hasten their demise. The largest butterflies, on the other hand, live for between 9 and 10 months.

Other curious facts about butterflies

  1. The wings of butterflies are very delicate, so even if they seem beautiful, do not touch them, or you could damage their wings, which is what allows them to fly and dye the landscape in a thousand colors.
  2. Some butterflies can reach great speeds when flying, almost like flying very fast, around 50 kilometers per hour.
  3. In addition to being fast, butterflies can fly great distances, the monarch butterfly being the one that can go the farthest.
  4. Butterflies have

More curiosities about butterflies

To finish, we leave you a list of curiosities about butterflies that you probably did not know:

  • Butterflies are mainly diurnal and moths nocturnal, although there are exceptions.
  • The life of adult butterflies is quite short-lived, some species live only one day.
  • Butterflies generally weigh very little, about the size of two rose petals.
  • There are incredibly large butterfly specimens, such as the birdwing butterfly, which can measure up to 28 centimeters wide. Some butterflies only measure a few millimeters in size, like the western blue pygmy butterfly.
  • The fastest butterflies can fly at more than 45 km/h, the slowest at only 8 km/h.
  • Some species of butterflies use sounds and noises that they produce with their wings to communicate, most female butterflies release pheromones so that the males can locate them at distances of even 2 kilometers.
  • The tongue of butterflies is shaped like a trunk, and can be retracted, at rest, or stretched out, to suck nectar from flowers.
  • Butterflies can see red, yellow, and green colors; they smell with their antennae; and, although they do not hear, they feel vibrations.
  • Females have a greater size and live longer than males.
  • The biggest and most significant group of pollinating insects, after bees, are butterflies.

If you liked this information, we recommend you read this other EcologíaVerde article on the Curiosities of invertebrate animals.

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