9 Animals That Eat Butterflies!

Last updated on February 4th, 2022

Butterflies are a staple diet for some animal species, while they’re other creatures that simply include these insects in their menu as an addition to other food sources.

Animals that eat butterflies

  • Grosbeaks
  • Oriole
  • Spiders
  • Frogs
  • Mice
  • Praying Mantis
  • Wasps
  • Snakes
  • Ants

These predators gobble up butterflies in all their development stages, like caterpillars, adult butterflies, and even butterfly eggs. It sounds saddening for us, but this is part of the food chain.

Table of Contents

List of Animals That Eat Butterflies

Let’s check out the animals that feed on these pretty winged insects.

1. Birds

A large number of bird species have been preying on and killing adult butterflies throughout the planet.

Some of these avian species include sparrows, robins, thrushes, flycatchers, crossbills, jays, jacamars, tanagers, and so on.

On the other hand, birds such as the grosbeaks and oriole specifically prey on monarch butterflies.

Grosbeaks

black-headed grosbeak

The Black-headed Grosbeak is one of a few birds that isn’t affected by the toxic compound found in monarch butterflies, making it safe for them to consume this insect.

Once a black-headed grosbeak devours a monarch butterfly, you can easily tell because the entire abdomen of the adult butterfly will be missing.

These avian species also feed on the cuticle (skin) of the monarch’s abdomen. However, they consider feeding on male monarchs as they contain 30% less poison than female monarch butterflies.

Oriole

black-backed oriole

Orioles, especially the black-backed species, attack and feed on monarch butterflies. Unlike Grosbeaks, Orioles avoid eating the cuticle of the abdomen since all the harmful toxins are stored here.

To separate the cuticle from the rest of the ‘edible’ portion, orioles slit open the cuticle with its sharp beak.

After slicing the cuticle, the bird feeds on the healthy fat inside while avoiding the toxic concentrate.

Bird watchers are more likely to find orioles feeding on Monarch butterflies in the mornings and evenings because the butterfly needs a warm muscle to fly and during this time, the environment is so cold that it’ll freeze these winged insects to death.

2. Spiders and Other Insects

spider eating butterfly

Even though birds are the main predators, spiders, too, feed on adult butterflies.

Apart from spiders, there are yet another set of predatory insects who include these helpless winged insects in their menu. They include wasps, robber flies, and dragonflies.

In the mid to late summer months, butterflies are often attacked by wasps and hornets.

Various other anthropoid species like mantises attack butterflies in warm climates.

3. Snakes

adder snake

Snakes can be the predators of almost anything! The Adder, for example, when fully grown can gobble up large species of animals, like frogs, mice, lizards, slow worms, and so on.

Young Adders, however, feed on beetles, spiders, worms, and grass-feeding caterpillars.

Although these species of snake look dangerous, they rarely attack humans, unless of course, you step on it or pick it up.

The common areas where you’ll find Adders are sunny and sheltered locations like riverbanks, woodland areas, dunes, heaths, and grasslands.

The chief hunting time for Adders is daytime. Interestingly, Adders detect the scent of their prey by flickering out their forked tongues.

The venom that snakes possess has a heart depressant that kills its victim rapidly which allows the snake to easily swallow its prey.

4. Frogs

australian green tree frog

Frogs are one of those predators that eat almost anything (any weaker animal species, of course) that comes in its way!

These generalist predators can gobble up any prey ranging from spiders, butterflies to grasshoppers.

In short, whatever fits in its mouth, a frog will not wait to add that poor creature to its menu.

Frogs eat a variety of live prey in the wild with the monarch caterpillar being included in that diet. Although they have a horrible taste for some reptiles, birds, and large insects, frogs will slowly creep up on these caterpillars and swallow them up in an instant.

Moreover, frogs also feed on worms and insects, as these are much easier to get.

Also, unlike birds, frogs and snakes will not hesitate or think twice before eating Monarch butterflies.

Did you know that some large frog species and toads can eat a whole mouse?

5. Mice

Monarch butterflies are preyed upon and eaten by rats or mice, (especially the black-eared mice) and they’ll usually feed on them at night since this is the time that rats and mice are active due to their nocturnal nature.

Mice hunt, attack, capture, and eat moths or butterflies that are found on the ground. 

Unlike frogs and toads, these rodents can eat both dead (including recently dead or dying insects) and living butterflies.

There are four main species of mice living in areas populated with monarch butterflies, but only the black-eared mice will feed on these butterflies heavily.

Interestingly, the Black-eared mouse can manage to eat monarchs without being harmed by their toxins. Rats may also leave behind a pile of butterfly wings.

Also, one rat or mouse can eat between 30 to 37 monarchs every night!

The Types of Butterflies Creatures Prey On

Looking from the perspective of these predators, we can categorize butterflies into two kinds to determine which butterfly species they would eat.

They include the ones that are delicious and the ones that are not (those butterflies that taste bad).

You’ll be surprised to know that the most gorgeous-looking butterflies are actually the ones that taste bad.

They’re more commonly known as Monarchs.

Monarchs feed on milkweed plants, which is considered poisonous for many animals, but not for these butterfly species.

When they’re in the caterpillar phase, Monarchs eat milkweed. 

The milkweed leaves that butterflies ate when they were caterpillars are stored in the cuticle of the abdomen once they’ve fully morphed.

It’s like a defense mechanism for these butterflies.

Another butterfly species, known as the Viceroy, looks very much like Monarchs. Even though they taste good, birds or other animals won’t feed on them in fear of another bad-tasting butterfly.

How do Butterflies Protect Themselves From Predator Attacks?

Butterflies use a number of tactics to protect themselves from predators, they’ll either camouflage themselves under a leaf or tree branch to blend in with their surroundings or fold up their wings to reveal their underside which makes them appear invisible and nearly impossible for predators to identify.

On the other hand, the monarch butterfly relies on its toxic chemical defenses to deter predators.

Some butterflies have developed patterns like fake eyes on their wings which distracts predators and prevents them from coming near these winged insects.

Many studies have shown that certain butterfly species have been attacked by other creatures but later rejected (due to bad taste) or escaped.

For instance, one study has proven this by examining some Ascia monuste specimens, who had beak marks on their wings.

The marks indicated that they’ve been attacked or captured by predators, and somehow they escaped or have been taste-rejected.

The studies conducted by researchers show that around 50% of the wild butterfly species are eaten or killed before they can reproduce or mate.

Most of these winged insects get attacked when they are sucking nectar from flowers or basking. But many are still able to escape, with only a few injuries or missing parts of their wings.

However, butterflies are clever as they constantly try to avoid predator attacks in intelligent ways. Here’s an example.

Some common predators, especially vertebrates, depend on their primary sight to attack or capture their prey.

But butterflies constantly try to divert their visual senses through optical illusion techniques, like camouflage, mimicry, disguise, transparency, and warning coloration.

However, when these primary mechanisms fail, they try to launch secondary defense mechanisms, which include fighting and an attempt to flee.

Unfortunately, when all of the above methods fail, the butterfly is attacked and eaten.

Surprisingly, another method in which butterflies defend against predators is by gathering together and forming a large and strong group.

The proverb, “Unity is one!”, is seen at its best in this defense mechanism.

Butterflies, or more specifically, the monarchs, usually lay hidden in the stillness of the forest. These butterfly species are known for their silences and coloration.

In a camouflaged state, monarchs’ wings appear dull to match the color of the surroundings, such as the lichens or the bark of the tree it’s sitting on.

Conclusion

Various predators feed on butterflies, including numerous species of birds, rats, toads, snakes, lizards, monkeys, dragonflies, wasps, macaws, and even ants! Among the remaining animals that regularly consume butterflies in their diet are frogs and spiders.

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