Found all over the world, butterflies share many features regardless of species, but each one places its eggs on a specific host plant so its larvae can eat. Do butterflies eat citrus? I will share some of the strange eating habits of butterflies.
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Do Butterflies Eat Citrus
Not only do butterflies eat citrus, but some caterpillars do as well. The swallow-tailed butterfly lays its eggs on citrus plants so the newly emerged baby butterflies can eat the leaves. While not every butterfly species eats citrus, those species that live in areas where citrus grows are likely to sip from citrus flowers.
Do Butterflies Like Citrus Trees
Butterflies do like citrus trees. Most citrus trees’ wide, densely growing leaves provide a good hiding place for butterflies to sleep or get out of the rain.
Moreover, citrus plants are always flowering—many gardeners who want to attract butterflies plant citrus in their yards.
Though each type of citrus is different, most trees begin producing flowers a year or two after they’re planted. These blooms attract bees and other pollinators such as butterflies.
Some butterfly species use citrus as a host plant for their caterpillars, while others sip the nectar when it’s convenient.
Butterflies are attracted to brightly colored blooms. Additionally, most adult butterflies aren’t overly picky eaters. If there are flowers, and they can reach the nectar, they will eat.
According to Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center, the giant swallowtail butterfly or Heraclides Cresphonte lays single eggs on citrus leaves.
The butterfly’s larva, known as the red-dog caterpillar, uses scent glands on its head to ward off predators. It’s likely the oils from the citrus leaves it consumes help the tiny creature create their odiferous protection.
These citrus-loving caterpillars have a secondary defense mechanism in their camouflage. When they aren’t moving, the future giant swallowtail looks a lot like bird poop.
Because bird poop has no natural predators, it’s a disgusting but effective way to hide out and eat all the citrus leaves they need to grow into their majestic adult selves.
How Do Butterflies Eat Citrus
Butterflies eat citrus in two different ways. As their easy-to-identify fluttering adult selves, they sip nectar. Fully mature butterflies have a proboscis, which is a long straw-like snout they can literally use to slurp up the sweet juices.
When the sticky insides of fruit are exposed, especially when the fruit is juicy and dripping, adult butterflies may also drink the juice.
A few species prefer rotting fruits or other foods. However, most will be content with local flowers in their region.
The second way some butterflies eat citrus is as babies. Every butterfly species has a favored host plant. They will lay their eggs only on a single-family or type of plant, such as citrus.
When the eggs hatch, those caterpillars require sustenance and will eat the leaves.
Not every species of caterpillar can eat every leaf. Monarchs are the most famous example of this one-plant diet because their young sup exclusively on the otherwise toxic milkweed.
For citrus trees, it is the Swallowtail that makes its home among the leaves.
Caterpillars have incredibly efficient grinding mouthparts. They are voracious chewers who fortunately only eat leaves.
How Often Will Butterflies Eat Citrus
Although butterflies can eat both citrus flowers and drink the juices from its fruit, they won’t necessarily seek it out.
Adult butterflies will eat citrus whenever it is easily available. While they don’t hunt for these trees (except the swallowtail), butterflies also don’t avoid them.
During the blooming season, you’ll find plenty of these colorful fliers among the bees on your trees.
Butterflies eat at least once per day in captivity, but in the wild, they flit around, sipping out of many blooms each day. Alternately, caterpillars will eat vast quantities of citrus, but only for a short time.
A single giant swallowtail caterpillar can defoliate a small citrus tree. They will eat from the moment they hatch, molting five times as they grow to thousands of times their original size.
Unless a caterpillar is asleep, it eats for the first nine to fourteen days of its life. After that, it will spin its chrysalis and become a butterfly.
Which Citrus Will Butterflies Eat
Butterflies enjoy a variety of citrus fruits. They will eat oranges, lemons, and even grapefruits. In season, the butterflies will sip nectar from the flowers, but that’s not the only part of fruit they will enjoy given a chance.
Most butterflies like fruit juice. If you cut a citrus fruit open and leave it, the butterfly may not be able to pierce the juice pods with its proboscis.
However, if you pierce the pods while cutting, you may find a few fluttery friends who are all too happy to share your snack.
Additionally, you can set out the peels for your local insects. Place lemon or orange peels in a very shallow dish of water.
By doing this, the juices from the peel will infuse the water, and butterflies can come to enjoy some of the sugary, tangy treats. Likewise, you can leave a little juice on a plate for the butterflies to sip.
Do Butterflies Eat Lemons
Although lemons are relatively low in sugar, butterflies will sip the juice. At just one point five grams of fruit sugars in a whole lemon, it’s certainly not as sweet as most of the food these beautiful insects prefer.
Yet surprisingly, a butterfly will still come to sip if you leave juicy lemons where they can reach the liquid.
Since butterflies have no chewing or cutting mouthparts, they need a little help to drink from lemons. Moreover, they will drink lemonade if given the opportunity.
The added sugar is a bonus for these sweet-loving creatures.
Do Butterflies Eat Oranges
Like lemons, butterflies like orange juice. At nine grams of sugar in a medium orange, this fruit is a lot more like the nectar butterflies crave.
The bright color of the orange will also attract your local butterflies.
Butterflies are drawn to anything the color of their natural foods. Pink, white, red, orange, yellow, and purple are all noteworthy to butterflies.
When they land on your shirt, butterflies are using their feet to taste you and see if you have any nectar to offer.
Helpful Tips To Know About Butterflies Eating Citrus
Not all butterflies will eat citrus. Especially when you’re dealing with the larval stage or caterpillars, butterflies have particular dietary needs.
However, most of these brightly colored insects eat whatever flowers are available once they reach adulthood.
Here are more helpful tips about butterflies eating citrus.
- If you capture a caterpillar and plant keep it, you must feed it leaves from the plant you found it on. Caterpillars need specific nutrients from the host plant for their particular species.
- Giant Swallowtails are the only known species of butterfly to lay eggs on citrus plants.
- Lemontree caterpillars and Orangedog caterpillars are other names for the giant swallowtail’s early life stage.
- A butterfly’s proboscis starts as two pieces that they zip together as they inflate their wings on the first day of their adult lives. This is why most newly emerged butterflies don’t eat the day they come out.
Butterflies who live in regions where citrus grows often eat citrus. In addition to sipping from the flowers of citrus trees, butterflies enjoy fruit juice.
However, since they have no chewing or biting mouthparts, the butterflies cannot access the juices independently. You can set out fruit juice or even citrus peels in shallow water for the butterflies to enjoy.
The giant swallowtail is the only species that lay eggs on citrus trees, so they are the only caterpillars who eat citrus, but they only chew the leaves.