Caterpillars eat plants to feed themselves. Larvae of certain butterflies and moths feed almost exclusively on plants. Most caterpillars munch happily on leaves, though some eat other plant parts, like seeds and flowers.
Generalist Feeders vs. Specialist Feeders
Generalists are the caterpillars that feed on leaves, twigs and fruits while specialists feed only on one species of food, so they are easy to identify. Generalists are a type of caterpillar. They feed on a variety of plants.
Some species of the mourning cloak butterfly feed exclusively on different members of the parsley family: parsley, fennel, carrot, dill, or even Queen Anne’s lace. Some specialist butterflies are restricted in their diet to plants within the same family. Monarchs eat only milkweed, the leaves of which they use for food.
One rather unusual moth caterpillar, Ceratophaga vicinella, is found in the southeastern U.S. They feed exclusively on the shells of dead gopher tortoises. Tortoise shells are tough for most scavengers to digest, but if you do manage to get it in your mouth and it’s the right shape, it tastes delicious!
Determining What to Feed Your Caterpillar
You will need to identify the food preferences of a caterpillar that is going to be raised in captivity. Some caterpillars specialize on a specific type of plant, and others eat a variety of host plants. You can’t put a lion in a cage with monkeys and expect it to act like a monkey.
How do you know what to feed it, if you don’t know what kind of caterpillar it is? Look around the area where you found it. Was it on a plant? Put some of the foliage from that plant into a glass of water. Try to feed it! If you want to find the one plant that attracts all insects, you can find it in the garden.
Caterpillars often wander off their host plants to look for a place to pupate. Caterpillars that you’ve caught might not want to eat at first. In fact, they’ll probably walk away from the food before eating it.
Oak Leaves: The (Nearly) Universal Caterpillar Food
If your caterpillar won’t eat anything you give it, try collecting some oak leaves. You may think that a huge number of moth and butterfly species—over 500—would be unlikely to find oak leaves, but the truth is the opposite. There are many insects that are eaten as a food source. Caterpillars are one of them. Other foods preferred by many caterpillars include cherry, willow, or apple leaves. For a garden that blooms throughout the year, look no further than the plant known as the powerhouse perennial.
Host Plants for Caterpillars to Eat in Your Garden
To create a butterfly garden, you need a lot more than just nectar plants. You need trees, shrubs, flowers, and a variety of other plants. Caterpillars need food, too! Including caterpillar host plants in your yard will help you attract more butterflies as they visit your yard to lay their eggs.
When you’re planning your butterfly garden, keep these butterfly host plant suggestions in mind. A well-designed butterfly garden will ensure the longevity of your plants and flowers, and they are just the ticket for butterflies and many other small insects.
Common Garden Butterflies and Their Host Plants
The most popular butterfly garden plants are sunflowers, cosmos, coneflower, daisies, poppies, marigolds, and asters. These host plants are especially attractive to Monarch and painted lady butterflies. When you plant a flower garden, you may want to include a number of these plants.
If you want to attract butterflies and other wildlife, you should use the right kinds of plants. Choose the type of butterflies that you want to attract. If you only want to attract Monarch butterflies, you will want to include only Sunflower, Cosmos, and Poppies in your butterfly garden. Many people choose to use butterfly host plants in their gardens because they make beautiful flowers.
In addition, they attract butterflies and other pollinating insects. You can create a butterfly garden in any part of your yard. If you live in an area where there is snow, you can place your butterfly garden outside. This will allow you to enjoy a beautiful garden all year round. In your butterfly garden, you can also place a number of native plants. Native plants provide a natural environment for many types of animals. It is easy to find native plants near your home.
|Butterfly||Caterpillar Host Plants|
|American painted lady||pearly everlasting|
|black swallowtail||dill, fennel, carrot, parsley|
|common buckeye||snapdragons, monkey flowers|
|eastern comma||elm, willow, hackberry|
|giant swallowtail||lime, lemon, hoptree, prickly ash|
|grass skippers||little bluestem, panic grass|
|gulf fritillary||passion vines|
|mourning cloak||willow, birch|
|palamedes swallowtail||red bay|
|question mark||elm, willow, hackberry|
|red spotted purple||cherry, poplar, birch|
|silver-spotted skipper||black locust, indigo|
|spicebush swallowtail||spicebush, sassafras|
|tiger swallowtail||black cherry, tulip tree, sweet bay, aspen, ash|