Artificial nectar recipe

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  • #13833


    This from lepidopterist Nigel Venters, courtesy of the IBBA:

    As we all know butterflies rely on nectar for food, and a good substitute is sugar water. Products like Gatorade are flavoured with many options, but the sweetness is always the same, from cane sugar, (always avoid the diet varieties which are useless as artificial nectar!) The flavouring can act as an original attractent, rather like scent from a flower, but once tasted, the butterflies learn to visit the artificial nectar pads again and again.

    Real nectar is a complex cocktail, with sweetness derived from fructose, which is fruit sugar. Chemically almost identical to cane sugar, but as jam makers have learned, fructose does not crystalize as cane sugar does. If you live in an area that has low humidity, and/or long dry periods, then, although more expensive than cane sugar, I recommend you use fructose as a base for artificial nectar. Why? Well on many occasions in dry conditions a well fed butterfly can be killed by the cane sugar re-crystalising inside the abdomen.

    Now it is also well known, that in many species, male butterflies,(and it is only males!) will congregate on damp mud to sip fluids. Many males of a number of species will also sip from the most disgusting sources, like dog faeces, dead putrefying animals, decomposing seafood, etc.This applies only to the males, never the females, so why do they do it?

    Analystic evidence of the mud, etc. at these gatherings shows that sodium salts, other minerals, and even vitamins are taken in by the males. This seems to be to ensure that the spermatiphore is formed effectively, and as we all know, this is important for mating. So I came up with a simple recipe, which accounted for the male’s interest in salts, minerals, and vitimens, that also was effective for the females. It works well for me, and many others who have tried it. Those of you who may like to try it, the recipe follows:

    Boil a kettle of water and pour into a jugful of sugar (Cane or fructose, whichever you choose) Pour just enough to dissolve the sugar into a pourable, but thick syrup. Now add drops of Rich Soy sauce, (Do not use diet, or low salt, only original!) Pour the drops until the mixture turns into a weak tea without milk colour, and mix well. allow to cool and then bottle in an old pop bottle, and seal with the stopper. No need to use the fridge, this mixture will keep for ever without chilling. Just pour a small amount out when you need it and dilute with water, at 5% to 10% solution as artificial nectar. This is very cheap and effective, and only when diluted do you need to change it evry 2 days or so, just like any other art. nectar.

    I have no problems with Gatorade, it just seems an expensive, and inconvenient way to feed the butterflies to me. But I do always wonder about the artificial preservatives in it!

    Hope this is of interest.


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  • #61606


    Update from an AFB scientist: do not use honey, use sugar instead. The nutrients are very similar, but you run the risk of spreading AFB (American foulbrood, fatal for honey bees) by using honey.



    A few comments on the artificial nectar choices:

    1. I agree that absent significant evidence it seems unlikely that sucrose will recrystallize in the gut of a butterfly, but not because of the choice of sugar type. Crystallization is inhibited by mixing with almost anything and certainly inhibited by adequate moisture. It would be more likely that a butterfly would die of dehydration than crystallization.

    2. While honey contains mostly glucose and fructose, it in _not_ correct to suggest that sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose, will be a suitable substitute for the two separately. Why? Because the disaccharide molecule — fructose and glucose molecules chemically joined — may not be easily absorbed and utilized in the same way as the monosaccharide glucose and fructose molecules would be. Humans have to break down sucrose in the duodenum before it is available to the body. Without direct evidence that butterflies can digest sucrose, I would err on the side of using honey, glucose, or fructose.

    3. I have gotten raw honey with some beeswax in it. When I put it in my hot tea the melted wax floats like an oil on the surface. Not sure that wax would be good for a butterfly proboscis. Would not be so concerned about processed honey as the clarity indicates the waxes have been removed.

    Hope this adds a little understanding to the issues.



    There certainly is a danger to accepting myths at face value without verifying them.

    While not wishing to fall into argumentum ad verecundiam, I note that the original posting in this thread was made by Nigel Venters, one of the authors of “The commercial butterfly breeders manual” and a well respected member of the IBBA:

    So I would tend to treat his assertion with respect unless I had proof to the contrary, bearing in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Or in simpler terms, can you name one study that proves butterflies have never been killed by recrystallization?

    But speaking of myths, the false notion that people in the middle ages believed the earth to be flat is a fine example of a myth with no apparent source. The Historical Society of Britain some years back listed it as number one in its short compendium of the ten most common historical illusions.

    Pythagoras believed it to be a globe. Eratosthenes, Librarian of Alexandria, wrote a treatise “On the Measurement of the Earth” giving a figure for the Earth’s circumference of 250,000 stadia. Clement, Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Isodore, Albertus Magnus and Aquinas all accepted the Earth was a globe. The difficult part is trying to figure out when this “flat earth myth” began. The earliest occurrence seems to be in the 1830s in a NOVEL about Columbus.

    Columbus’s voyage certainly was controversial. Not because people thought he would fall off the edge, as the novelist mistakenly imagines, but because sensible people doubted Columbus had the supplies to make it all the way to India. The debate was not “sphere vs flat” but “small sphere vs large sphere”. Columbus believed it to be a small sphere. He was of course completely wrong, and probably would have starved to death on his way to India if he hadn’t accidentally bumped into America.

    So all in all Bernie, not the best analogy you could have chosen.



    well it’s a day now and no one has given me any evidence to back up the oft quoted”crystallisation in the gut” statements.Is there anyone out there who can point me towards experiments where people have actually done autopsies on dead butterflies looking for foreign crystals in the gut?
    I used to tell my students that several hundred years ago I would have told them that the Earth was flat and they would have learned it for homework.
    I fear that the crystallisation theorists will suffer the same fate.



    Hi Bernie!

    Count me in on this one, I have used just white sugar and water in the past and found no problems with it. The only reason I came up with my own mix was to make sure the home made nectar had all the good stuff in it that flower nectar would normally supply.



    I’ve used honey for years with no problems.Can someone tell me where I can read scientific evidence regarding this crystalisation in the gut theory.
    I am highly sceptical



    Hi all – just picked this up on a website selling a butterfly feeder: “Do not use honey as a sweetener because it can re-crystallize and also harbor bacteria.”

    I knew I’d heard that, but couldn’t remember from whom/where. Is this a ploy just to get people to buy their feeder (which comes together with an artificial nectar mix).



    Honey doesn’t need a preservative while it is concentrated, so I would be surprised to find a manufacturer wasting money by putting in an unneeded preservative.

    It is also common for the marketing departments to be disingenuous in what they put on the front of the label. e.g. “no added sugar” and “low in fat” on children’s lollies that are made from concentrated fruit juice, and so nearly pure fructose anyway. A drink bottle that claims to contain 1.2 serves always amuses me as well. Who drinks 83% of the bottle and then tips out the other 17%?

    So if one brand says their honey has “no added preservatives” that doesn’t mean that the other brands do. Another brand may claim something else, eg no dolphins were harmed in the making of this honey, or some other rubbish



    Do some honeys have preservatives or additives that affect butterflies?
    I notice on some jars it says…’no preservatives added” so it makes me wonder? What do others use?


    Deborah Du Pain

    Hi All of You, I,ve just read all of your comments on feeding theses little butterflies so im OFF to make them some. Sounds very yummy to me. LET YA KNOW Thanks Deb



    You’re very welcome Carol. And for the chemically inquisitive among you, honey typically consists of:
    * Fructose: 38.2%
    * Glucose: 31.3%
    * Sucrose: 1.3%
    * Maltose: 7.1%
    * Water: 17.2%
    * Higher sugars: 1.5%
    * Ash: 0.2%
    * Other/undetermined: 3.2%



    I have just tried a couple of newly hatched (male) butterflys on the ‘easy’ recipe and they LOVED it! So thanks for that Darren… and Jacqui for asking 😉



    🙂 My lips are sealed. Thanks Darren.



    At it’s simplest, a heaped teaspoon of honey in half a glass of water, add a drop of soy sauce.

    Don’t tell them about the Ford cups or the dog poo.



    I have just had a phone call from someone who’s not using the net, and they want a recipe for artificial nectar. I read through all the above and gave them my version, but I must admit I’m not feeding any butterflies.

    Could people please note below EXACTLY what mixture they would make up if they were advising someone for one or two butterflies? So other people can just get the recipe, do that, and then come back and read all the other information at a later point. Please use the KISS formula (keep it simple and specific!)




    hi Darren
    -thanks for the ‘beetle’ pic – they cant be all bad if they go for the apple moth.. to divert them, think I’d better grow an apple tree now!
    -and really enjoyed your nectar answer..have vision of butterflies carrying wee Ford Measuring Cups & shaking their heads at my brew. I have added the soy – saves on dog poo 🙂
    Shall do the thin sponge method – would any flowering pots I can move under shelter where the butterflies are, have sufficient nectar at this time of year?
    j 🙂



    I don’t think its possible to be *too* scientific, but I don’t think the butterflies are going to be measuring the viscosity of your nectar in Ford Cup Seconds (yes there is such a thing). After all they feed from a wide variety of flowers. Ditto for the soy sauce. Its got to be better than getting their sodium from dog poo.

    2 teaspoons in half a metric cup of water will give you 8%

    The first time I tried artificial feeding a year back I put a puddle in a saucer and a butterfly fell in! Now I use a piece of thin kitchen sponge to soak it up. The butterflies walk all over the sponge quite happily, and I have seen them sticking their proboscis down into the sponge.



    oh dear, am I being too scientific? .. but 5% to 10% of a ‘pourable’ & ‘thick syrup’, is how much? & how many drops is ‘weak tea colour’ Maybe it just doesnt matter.
    A sticky butterfly cant be good (when they flap their wings all over the nectar – dont want them to stick together!)
    judi 🙂



    Thanks for all that nector info. Most useful.Kath Member



    the concentrate stores well, the dilute form will go off quickly.



    If the honey water is dilute you perhaps should keep it in the fridge.



    That is good to know and handy note regarding the soy sauce. the latter must help to keep it from going off too?



    Honey is an invert sugar, which is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Chemically speaking glucose + fructose = sucrose (aka cane sugar). So use use either honey or cane sugar, it’ll work out much the same. I think the soy sauce is helpful though, as males need salt for reproduction. They get this in nature by “puddling” in mud and other things.



    Was told that a solution with honey on water was okay?? is this right? is the above recipe better?



    Hi Darren,
    With the wet weather butterflies are not as active and not expending energy so they do not need to feed as much. If you have nectar there for them then they will not starve.
    Remember the saying “you can lead horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.
    During winter butterflies can exist quite happily for a time without nectar by using their fat reserves.
    They will sup when they are hungry.

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