Food for Caterpillars

Caterpillars eat, and eat, and eat! They have strong jaws, called mandibles, to chew up leaves. Each kind of caterpillar will only eat the leaves of a few kinds of plants (its host plants). Female butterflies must lay their eggs on the right host plants. They find the correct plants by smell and taste, using their antennae and feet.

Click the monarch image.

White Admiral caterpillar
on Cottonwood.


Adult butterflies do not grow. The caterpillar is the only growing stage in the life cycle. Some caterpillars will increase their weight by more than 1000 times from when they hatch out of the egg to when they enter the chrysalis stage.

Video - Watch a 15 second clip of a Mourning Cloak caterpillar eating an Elm leaf: Large file (2.2 MB) | Small file (0.4 MB)


Not all caterpillars eat plants. Those of the Harvester butterfly eat aphids! It is Manitoba’s only carnivorous caterpillar.

Click these images.

Click these images.

Food for Adults

Butterflies eat liquid foods. They use their proboscis like a straw to suck up nectar from flowers or drink tree sap from damaged branches. Others will sip juice from rotting fruit or even dead animals or animal feces (poop). Many butterflies get water and nutrients (salts and minerals), from mud puddles.

Video - Watch a 15 second clip of a Duskywing Skipper sipping nectar from a Canada Thistle flower: Large file (2.2 MB) | Small file (0.4 MB)

Fuel and Reproduction

Adult butterflies need fuel for flight, and to gather nutrients to produce eggs and sperm. Males pass some nutrients to females when they mate.

Click these images.


More information on Host and Nectar Plants for Manitoba Butterflies.

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