Male Butterfly Nutrients

“I need to feed male butterflies in captivity to have them successfully mate. What do I feed them?”

“I need eggs from a few butterflies for a school project. I have emerged both male and female Monarch butterflies and understand that male butterflies need special nutrients. What do I feed them? I’ve been told several recipes but they seem complicated. I’ve been told soy sauce, beer, molasses, and other ingredients. What works best?”

Monarch butterflies live an average of four weeks. The migrating generation lives several months but since you’re using these for a project that involves pairing them, they clearly aren’t the migrating generation (the last generation of the year). We aren’t talking about a creature that lives for years or even for several months. We aren’t talking about long-term health like in our cats and dogs or in humans.  (We do not encourage keeping butterflies caged unless it is for educational purposes such as presentations, schools, exhibits, and such.)

Gulf Fritillary butterflies drinking nectar from bottle brush blooms
Gulf Fritillary butterflies drinking nectar from bottle brush blooms

In nature, butterflies drink flower nectar. Male butterflies obtain nutrients from soil, dung, or other decaying matter. When they drink from damp soil, they are drinking nutrients from decaying matter in the soil. Decaying plants, manure, animals, fruit, and anything else provide salts and nutrients that male butterflies need when forming sperm sacs. Sperm sacs are transferred to females during mating.

Spicebush Swallowtail male drinking nutrients from damp soil
Spicebush Swallowtail male drinking nutrients from damp soil

In captivity, you can easily provide both the necessary amount of sugar needed by both males and females as well as the amount of salts needed by male butterflies by simply feeding them Gatorade.

Use caution when buying Gatorade. Gatorade is available in a low-calorie version. We don’t place our butterflies on a diet.

Although butterflies tend to prefer red colored Gatorade, they will do equally as well on lighter colored flavors. Red dye goes through the digestive system of butterflies and stains their pee red. Yes, butterflies pee. The red pee will stain clothes and other material. We now use light blue Gatorade for that reason.

Gatorade has been the primary food for butterflies at Shady Oak Butterfly Farm for over 15 years. We don’t add anything to it. It has always worked well for us and we are happy with the number of fertile eggs our female Monarch butterflies produce. Many species have access to nectar plants as well. Some species have fruit available in their flight area at all times.

To encourage your butterflies to drink, place Gatorade on the brightest side of their habitat. They won’t drink the day they emerge from their chrysalises. If they don’t begin to drink on their own, you many need to hand-feed them the first time to teach them that yes, the liquid is food.

Gatorade can be added to the habitat several ways. You can use a butterfly feeder, a little cup with marbles and Gatorade (making sure that the liquid level is below the marbles), a paper towel in a dish, or another method. Please try to keep the Gatorade contained in a manner that keeps it from soaking the abdomen of your butterflies.