When you see a bunch of butterflies gathered together, this is called puddling or mud-puddling. Regrettably, the cute name belies the disturbing reason they get together.
Butterflies need salt and minerals they can’t get from nectar, so they collect it from where other creatures leave it behind, in urine, feces, and other bizarre sources. Why do butterflies eat poop?
Butterflies eat animal feces in order to draw out important nutrients like salt, amino acids and other essential nutrients that flower pollen lacks. Butterflies will slurp up fluids from poop, urine and blood using their probosces in a process called mud-puddling. The liquid is vital since butterflies have a long tube instead of a more mammalian mouth with teeth.
Table of Contents
Are Butterflies Attracted To Feces
Butterflies are attracted to feces because it contains a lot of nutrients. While we see poop as a way to eliminate what we don’t need, it is also a superb source of broken-down nutrients.
For example, dung piles have amino acids and lots of salt that the body has eliminated.
According to the University of Massachusetts, “Feces are mostly made of water (about 75%). The rest is made of dead bacteria that helped us digest our food, living bacteria, protein, undigested food residue (known as fiber), waste material from food, cellular linings, fats, salts, and substances released from the intestines (such as mucus) and the liver.”
The high water content in most feces makes it easier to slurp up their proboscis. The liquid is vital since butterflies have a long tube instead of a more mammalian mouth with teeth.
While things like undigested fiber and fat sound awful to humans, we have the advantage of being able to go out and get fresh sources of healthy fats and fiber as we need them.
A butterfly can’t pick or process plants for food, nor are they hunters. As a result, they help to break down waste by eating it and, in turn, redistributing it into the soil in their own, even smaller poops.
Oddly, this means that butterflies are consumers, scavengers, and decomposers. Pollination isn’t enough for these hard-working bugs. As small as they are, these lovely insects fulfill multiple critical roles in the food chain.
How Do Butterflies Find Poop
Thanks to their thoughtful parent, caterpillars hatch on the plants they need to eat for survival. In fact, at this stage in their lives, the pre-butterflies have simple eyes called ocelli and can barely see.
All they need to survive is to crawl around and eat. Their vision gets better later in life, but it’s never their primary sense.
Butterflies don’t look for their food the way humans would, and their vision isn’t as sharp as ours. However, they have a wider field of vision, and they’re better at perceiving rapid motion.
So, while their eyes may help some as they near the source, they probably aren’t looking for poop.
Once a butterfly breaches maturity, they have more accurate senses. Adults have all five senses, but their primary sense is smell like a dog.
Instead of noses, butterflies have chemoreceptors on their antennae that can pick up odors as they fly. Poop isn’t the only thing these clever appendages can sense.
A butterfly can use its antennae to smell food plants, mates, parasites, fungal infections, human sweat, urine, and even blood.
What Butterfly Eats Poop
All butterflies eat poop. Although different butterfly species prefer different plants for egg-laying, and some are more attracted to certain flowers, they all lack salt and other nutrients.
Since the nutritional needs of all butterfly species are virtually identical, they all require this bizarre form of dietary supplement.
Even butterflies that can eat toxic flowers, like the monarchs raised on milkweed, who can later drink from its blooms, still need more than nectar.
Some butterflies get their supplements from other sources like turtle tears and mud. However, male butterflies need extra salt and amino acids.
Without vital minerals, their bodies cannot produce pheromones or sperm. The next generation of butterflies may depend on eating poop.
Do Butterflies Like Dog Poop
It is hard to determine whether a butterfly ‘likes’ anything. Insects have all the biologically necessary components to have feelings, but there’s no indication that butterflies enjoy, fear, or hate anything, nor that they can process emotional responses. That said, butterflies eat dog poop.
Like other forms of feces, dog poo contains liquid, salts, amino acids, and minerals that the butterflies need to run their bodies.
I found no evidence that butterflies prefer one type of poop over others. They will gather around human baby diapers, dog poo, cow dung, and more exotic piles of crap as well.
Most likely, it is more about what kind of animal they live near. African savannah butterflies are more likely to find elephant and lion poo, and butterflies in urban America will run into more dog and housecat droppings.
Helpful Tips To Know About Why Butterflies Eat Poop
- Butterflies can taste the poop. According to Florida Museum, “Butterflies don’t have tongues, they have a proboscis which many people think of as a tongue, but it’s more like having your mouth extended into a long tube. They do have some taste buds on their proboscis and some on their antennae as well, but most of the tastebuds are focused on their feet.”
- There are butterfly species that consume their own bodily fluids. Butterflies use a unique trick when they need nutrients, and the available source comes from dried-up urine. By adding a mix of secreted fluids, they rehydrate the urine and dissolve the hidden salts and other beneficial compounds inside. Doing this allows them to slurp up the concoction and get what they need even after there’s too little water left for their straw-like proboscis.
- In addition to poop and urine, butterflies will take advantage of other sources of semi-liquid or liquid sustenance. Tears, sweat, and blood offer much-needed nutrition. Likewise, rotting meat and overripe rotten fruits also contain dietary supplements for butterflies. These lovely creatures aren’t picky. They will slurp up salt and minerals from mud if they can find it, which is why the practice is called mud-puddling.
The idea of eating poop might sound repulsive to you and me, but there’s a good reason for that. We are disgusted by things that aren’t good for us.
Our reaction to the smell or look of those things is part of our survival strategy because we don’t need anything in that organic waste to be healthy.
Disgustingly, this is not the case for butterflies. Since their primary job is to spread pollen around, they sup on flowers filled with nectar.
Unfortunately, no living thing can survive on sugar alone. Even plants need some minerals to make their sugars. The safest and most abundant source of available nutrients and salt for butterflies comes from animal droppings, urine, or corpses.
On the plus side, since butterflies need poop to survive, the smell and taste are probably more pleasant and appetizing for them.