Can moths and butterflies eat?
  
Don Herbison-Evans,
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Stella Crossley

Most Butterflies and Moths have no mouth for chewing, so cannot eat solids. All their eating is done earlier in life when they are a caterpillar. Just a few moths have developed mouthparts and eat a few things such as pollen, but most butterflies and moths only have a haustellum, which is like a hollow straw, with which they can suck fluids such as nectar, water, tree sap, fruit juice, etc.

Most butterflies can feed this way. The moths that CAN feed in this way include many of those in the families and subfamilies:

  • CRAMBIDAE,
  • NOCTUIDAE, which includes the well known
    Agrotis infusa : the Bogong Moth,
  • CALPINAE, which includes a number that attack and damage fruit by penetrating the skin with the haustellum to obtain the juice,
  • PYRALIDAE, and
  • SPHINGIDAE, which includes a number that hover in front of flowers like a Humming Bird when feeding, The provison of juice containing alcohol, such as a mixture of beer and honey, is a good way to catch some moths and butterflies, as they can become too drunk to fly properly, and are then easy to catch.

  • Agrius convolvuli
    moth sipping nectar
    through its extended haustellum while hovering
    (Photo: courtesy of Linda Kay, Berrigan)

    Many moths CANNOT feed at all as they have no haustellum. They must rely totally on the nourishment in the food eaten by the caterpillar earlier in its life. These moths that cannot feed include many of those in the families:

  • ANTHELIDAE,
  • BOMBYCIDAE, which includes the well known
    Bombyx mori : the Silkworm,
  • COSSIDAE, which includes the well known
    Endoxyla leucomochla : Wijuti Grub,
  • EUPTEROTIDAE,
  • HEPIALIDAE,
  • LASIOCAMPIDAE,
  • LIMACODIDAE,
  • LYONETIIDAE,
  • NOTODONTIDAE,
  • PSYCHIDAE,
  • SATURNIIDAE, which includes the well known
    Opodipthera eucalypti : the Emperor Gum Moth,
  • and TINEIDAE.
  • Link to
    Frequently Asked Questions about Caterpillars

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    (updated 27 April 2009, 5 January 2014)