Butterfly Poop: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: September 14, 2022
Image Credit furoking300/Shutterstock.com
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The butterfly is a world-famous insect belonging to the Class Insecta and the Order Lepidoptera. It can be found everywhere around the world and is divided into six families and well over 17,000 species. Butterflies are mostly found outdoors, whether in rainforests or deserts and we found that people don’t know what their poop looks like or whether they even poop at all. In answer to the latter, butterflies actually do not poop, at least not in the conventional way that most other animals do. If you find that shocking and confusing, we promise to help you make sense of it in this article. Get ready to learn a great deal about the excretory system of butterflies. 

What Does Butterfly Poop Like?

Butterfly poop
Butterflies discharge excess water gotten from their liquid diet.

furoking300/Shutterstock.com

We mentioned earlier that butterflies do not poop in the orthodox way that most other animals do. They only excrete excess amounts of fluid when it is absolutely necessary and the reason behind this is simple- much of their diet involves water/fluid. And while you might be tempted to go like “Oh, so they pee instead”, scientists do not classify these excess fluids that butterflies discharge in the same category as urine. And that’s because they do not have the same composition. The discharge is simply excess water or fluid. 

One might also come across some butterfly species excreting a red liquid. This red liquid is, however, not a waste;  it is more like a residue from their time in the cocoon and scientists call it meconium. This is a rarity and when it does happen, it comes out of the anus a few days after leaving the cocoon. 

So, as an answer to the question of what butterfly poop looks like, one could say it looks just like water. 

We should mention that while butterflies do not poop or pee, their larvae, known as caterpillars, actually do poop. Matter of fact, their poop is known as a “frass” and they come in the form of pellets. 

What Do Butterflies Eat?

butterfly
Butterflies have a proboscis, which makes it impossible to consume solid food.

iStock.com/bwzenith

Now that you know butterflies don’t poop or even pee for that matter, you must be wondering whether or not they eat. In a technical sense, butterflies do not eat at all because they do not have the ability to. What they have in place of a mouth is something called a proboscis, which makes it impossible to consume solid food. The proboscis, rather, acts like a straw of some sort and helps them draw liquid from fruits and nectar from flowers. The only time butterflies eat solid foods is during their pre-butterfly larvae stage i.e when they are still caterpillars. Safe to say, therefore, that butterflies actually never eat solid food. 

We must mention that there have been discoveries alleging that some butterfly species eat solid pollen. While that’s true, it’s not that simple and there’s a bit of context missing. These butterfly species have an inherent ability to liquefy pollen and make it consumable. So, they don’t eat solid pollen, they eat self-liquefied ones. An example of a pollen-eating butterfly is the Zebra longwing species. 

In addition to that, some butterflies can be found lounging in the poop of other animals and one might be tempted to take that to mean they somehow eat them. We’ll start by stating firmly that butterflies cannot and do not eat solid animal droppings. However, some butterflies appear to feast on poop in a bid to get some moisture and other important minerals. This activity is called mud-puddling and it is one of the not-so-cute habits of these very cute creatures. 

Is Butterfly Poop Dangerous?

giant swallowtail butterfly
The liquid butterflies excrete is almost as good as pure water.

Kevin Collison/Shutterstock.com

As we mentioned before, what butterflies do in place of pooping is discharge excess water gotten from their liquid diet. Scientists say this discharge is almost as good as pure water and there is really no proof as to the danger or toxicity of the substance. Even when they are caterpillars, they hardly excrete any poisonous stuff as they possess the ability to retain any toxin that has been ingested. 

How Do Butterflies Poop?

Contrary to what you might have guessed or thought, the excess water that butterflies discharge has a whole system to it. Butterflies have an excretory organ known as the malpighian tubule and it is found throughout their bodies. The tubules are sort of like waste men and they are solely responsible for picking up waste from the hemolymph and transporting it to the rectum after which the discharge is made. Pretty simple, huh?

Simple as it may seem, excretion is an important activity for butterflies as it helps them maintain an optimal level of water and salt. 

Does Butterfly Poop Smell?

From everything we have explained so far about the excess water discharge from butterflies, the logical assumption would be that the discharge doesn’t smell. Not only is that a logical assumption, but it is also pretty accurate. The “poop” is pretty much water and there is nothing putrid or foul about it. Matter of fact, if a random layman were to see one, there is very little chance they would be able to tell it apart from actual water, let alone smell it.

How Often Do Butterflies Poop?

Butterflies discharge excess water as often as they consume their liquid diet. This is a very simple activity for them so much so that the discharge is not limited to their anuses. Sometimes, the excess water evaporates and escapes their spiracles when they breathe. 

Also, for butterfly species, like monarch butterflies, that can go months without feeding, one can expect them to go months without excreting as well. 

Do Butterflies Fart?

Like most other animals, butterflies fart. While they don’t eat solid foods, they often swallow air while sipping their foods which builds up gas in them, and of course, the build-up results in something you could call a fart. 

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Sources
  1. Animal Hype, Available here: https://animalhype.com/insects/do-butterflies-poop/
  2. Helpful Hyena, Available here: https://helpfulhyena.com/do-butterflies-fart/
  3. meadowia, Available here: https://meadowia.com/butterflies-and-their-poop/