Feeding Painted Lady Caterpillars: What Can You Feed Painted Lady Caterpillars?

It’s that time of year when painted lady caterpillars are crawling all over our gardens and homes. These petite creatures are a delight to watch as they inch their way from one leaf to another. But did you know that feeding them is crucial for their growth and development? In this article, we’ll discuss what you can feed painted lady caterpillars to keep them healthy and strong.

Painted lady caterpillars are not picky eaters. They will devour a wide variety of leaves, including thistle, nettle, mallow, and borage. If you don’t have access to these types of leaves, you can also feed them spinach, kale, and dandelion greens. Just make sure that the leaves are fresh and clean, and free from any pesticides or chemicals that can harm the caterpillars.

It’s important to note that painted lady caterpillars have a ravenous appetite, especially during their final instar stage. At this point, they will eat almost non-stop as they prepare for their transformation into a butterfly. So make sure to provide them with plenty of leaves to ensure that they have enough nourishment to grow into healthy adult butterflies. Your efforts may seem small, but they make a big impact on the survival of these beautiful creatures.

Recommended diets for painted lady caterpillars

Painted lady caterpillars are known to feed primarily on plants in the family Asteraceae. However, they are also known to feed on plants in the families Fabaceae, Malvaceae, and Urticaceae. It is essential to provide a variety of food options to ensure that the caterpillars receive all the necessary nutrients for development.

  • Thistle: Species of thistle plants are closely related to the Asteraceae family, making them the ideal food source for painted lady caterpillars. Thistle plants can easily be grown in your backyard or purchased from a nearby nursery.
  • Nettle: The nettle plant belongs to the Urticaceae family and is a great source of food for painted lady caterpillars. The plant contains essential minerals and vitamins that caterpillars require for their growth.
  • Malva: Malva species are part of the Malvaceae family, and their leaves and flowers are an excellent source of food for painted lady caterpillars. These species can be grown in your backyard or purchased from a nearby nursery.

Plant selection and preparation

When selecting plants for painted lady caterpillars, ensure that they have not been treated with pesticides or insecticides, as these chemicals can be harmful to the caterpillars. It is also crucial to prepare the plants by washing them thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris.

Feeding painted lady caterpillars

Painted lady caterpillars are voracious eaters and require fresh food daily. It is essential to remove any wilted or dried leaves to avoid the spread of diseases. The caterpillars also require a water source, which can be provided using a damp cotton ball or sponge. However, it is essential not to soak the food to avoid creating a damp environment that can promote bacterial growth.

Plant Family Examples
Asteraceae Thistle, yarrow, goldenrod
Urticaceae Nettle
Malvaceae Malva, hollyhock
Fabaceae Clover, alfalfa, vetch

Providing a varied and healthy diet for painted lady caterpillars is crucial to ensure their healthy development. By growing or purchasing plants in the recommended families and ensuring their proper preparation, you can provide your caterpillars with a diverse and nutritious diet.

Edible plants for painted lady caterpillars

Painted lady caterpillars are quite easy to take care of. In terms of diet, these caterpillars feed on a wide range of plants. If you are raising these caterpillars at home, it would be best to have a variety of plants on hand. Below are some edible plants for painted lady caterpillars:

  • Thistle: Thistle is a favorite among painted lady caterpillars. It is important to note that not all species of thistle are suitable for painted lady caterpillars.
  • Clover: Clover is another popular food for these caterpillars. They are particularly fond of the flowers.
  • Mallow: Mallow leaves are a good source of food for painted lady caterpillars. The leaves are soft and easy to eat.

While these are just a few examples, there are many other plants that painted lady caterpillars can eat. You can observe their feeding habits and add more plants to their environment as needed.

It’s important to ensure that the plants you are feeding the painted lady caterpillars are free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. It’s best to obtain the plants from a reliable source or grow them organically yourself.

Creating a caterpillar food table

If you are raising a large number of painted lady caterpillars, it can be helpful to create a table for their food. This can help you keep track of the different plants and ensure that the caterpillars are getting a balanced diet.

Plant Parts Eaten Notes
Thistle Leaves Not all species are suitable for painted lady caterpillars.
Clover Flowers and Leaves Painted lady caterpillars are particularly fond of the flowers.
Mallow Leaves The leaves are soft and easy to eat.

By creating a food table, you can easily keep track of the different plants and the parts that the painted lady caterpillars are eating. This will ensure that they are getting a balanced diet and will help them grow into healthy adult butterflies.

Common foods that should be avoided when feeding painted lady caterpillars

Painted lady caterpillars are not picky eaters and will consume a range of plants as their sole source of nutrients. However, some common foods should be avoided when feeding these caterpillars to ensure their health and growth.

  • Avoid plants treated with pesticides: Insects such as painted lady caterpillars are highly susceptible to the negative effects of pesticides, which can cause severe harm and death. It is important to only feed the caterpillars plants that have not been treated with pesticides or other chemicals.
  • Avoid plants from contaminated areas: Similar to plants treated with pesticides, plants from contaminated areas such as roadside or industrial locations can harbor harmful chemicals that can negatively impact the caterpillars.
  • Avoid plants that are toxic: While many plants are safe for painted lady caterpillars to consume, there are a few that are toxic to them. Examples include milkweed varieties such as cotton and oleander.

By avoiding these common foods, you can help ensure the health and safety of painted lady caterpillars under your care.

If you want to know more about what plants are suitable for painted lady caterpillars, refer to a credible source like the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.

Additional Tips for Feeding Painted Lady Caterpillars

While it is important to avoid certain foods when feeding painted lady caterpillars, there are also a few other tips to keep in mind for optimal growth and health:

  • Provide fresh, clean leaves daily to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria or fungi.
  • Choose plants that are high in water content to help keep the caterpillars hydrated.
  • Make sure the caterpillars have ample space to move around and feed comfortably.

Examples of Suitable Plants for Painted Lady Caterpillars

Here are some common plants that are safe and suitable to feed painted lady caterpillars:

Plant Name Botanical Name
Thistle Cirsium spp.
Hollyhock Alcea rosea
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus
Nettle Urtica dioica
Clover Trifolium spp.

Feeding painted lady caterpillars can be a rewarding experience, but it is important to be selective with the plants you choose to ensure their proper nutrition and health.

Supplementing the Diet of Painted Lady Caterpillars with Protein

Painted lady caterpillars primarily feed on the leaves of their host plant, but as they grow, they require more nutrients to support their development. One of the essential macronutrients that they need is protein, which is crucial in building their bodies and tissues.

  • Dried Egg Whites – The easiest way to provide protein to painted lady caterpillars is by feeding them dried egg whites. These can be purchased at grocery stores or online. Simply mix the eggs with a little water to form a paste, and place it on a piece of wax paper inside the caterpillar’s container.
  • Cooked Chicken or Fish – Another option for feeding caterpillars is cooked chicken or fish. Cut the meat into small pieces and offer them to the caterpillars on a small dish or piece of wax paper. Make sure to remove any bones and avoid seasoning the meat with any spices or herbs.
  • Commercial Caterpillar Chow – Some pet stores sell caterpillar food that includes protein as one of the ingredients. These can provide a balanced diet for the caterpillars and are a convenient option for those who don’t want to prepare their own food.

It’s important to note that while protein is essential, it should be offered in moderation. Too much protein can lead to diarrhea and damage to the caterpillar’s delicate digestive system.

If you’re unsure about how much protein to offer, observe the caterpillar’s feeding habits. If they’re eating all of the offered protein and leaving the leaves untouched, you may be offering too much. Alternatively, if they’re avoiding the protein and only eating the leaves, they may not need more protein at this time.

Protein Source Protein Content (% dry weight)
Dried Egg Whites 82
Cooked Chicken 31
Cooked Fish 28

Offering protein in addition to the caterpillar’s regular diet of leaves can help ensure that they have the nutrients they need to successfully complete their transformation into a butterfly.

Homemade diets for painted lady caterpillars

If you are raising painted lady caterpillars, you might be wondering what to feed them. While there are commercially available diets, making your own at home can be a cheaper and more customizable option. Here are some homemade diets for painted lady caterpillars:

  • Green leafy vegetables: One of the most common homemade diets for painted lady caterpillars is feeding them green leafy vegetables. These can include kale, collard greens, and spinach. Be sure to wash them thoroughly and chop them finely before serving. You can place the chopped greens in a small dish or use a clothespin to attach them to the inside of the container.
  • Flower nectar: Painted lady caterpillars also consume nectar from flowers. You can add a drop or two of sugar water to the leaves to help attract the caterpillars to them.
  • Artificial diet: If you want to avoid using fresh produce altogether, you can make an artificial diet for your painted lady caterpillars. This can include a mixture of agar, Brewer’s yeast, and other ingredients. You can find recipes for artificial diets online or in butterfly rearing guides.

It’s important to note that you should change the caterpillar’s food daily to prevent the build-up of bacteria and mold. You should also ensure that the container is clean and free of debris. Additionally, it’s important to keep the caterpillars in a warm and humid environment to help them properly digest their food.

Here is an example of a simple artificial diet you can make at home:

Ingredient Amount (in grams)
Agar 3
Brewer’s yeast 3
Maple syrup 3
Soy flour 10
Cornmeal 10
Water 100

This diet can be heated and mixed until a gel-like substance forms. Once cooled, it can be cut into small portions and served to the painted lady caterpillars. Remember to monitor the caterpillars closely and adjust the diet as needed.

Feeding Painted Lady Caterpillars in Different Life Stages

If you’re raising painted lady caterpillars, it’s important to provide them with suitable food to ensure they grow and develop properly. However, the type of food you give them may change as they go through their various life stages.

Early Instar (First and Second) Caterpillars

  • During their first and second instars, painted lady caterpillars have tiny mandibles that can only handle small, tender leaves. Therefore, you should provide them with fresh, young leaves such as clover, dandelions, or thistle.
  • Be sure to wash any leaves thoroughly before giving them to the caterpillars, as they are sensitive to chemicals and pesticides.
  • You should also keep the leaves moist by spraying them with water regularly, as painted lady caterpillars need a humid environment.

Late Instar (Third to Fifth) Caterpillars

As the caterpillars move into their later instars, their mandibles become larger and they can handle tougher leaves. At this stage, you may want to consider introducing other plants to their diet, such as:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Snapdragons
  • Mallow
  • Hollyhock

These plants have tougher leaves that the caterpillars can chew on and help exercise their mandibles.

Pupae Stage Caterpillars

During the pupae stage, painted lady caterpillars won’t eat anything, and they’ll be busy forming their chrysalises. However, it’s still important to provide them with a suitable environment. Keep the container clean and provide a twig or rope for them to climb on, so they can attach their chrysalises.

Adult Butterfly Caterpillars

After around 10-14 days, the adult butterflies will emerge from their chrysalises. At this stage, you can introduce them to sources of nectar to feed on, such as flowering plants or a sugar-water mixture.

Food Source Instructions
Flowering Plants Place the butterflies in a container with fresh flowers and spray the plants with water regularly.
Sugar-Water Mixture Mix 4 parts water with 1 part white granulated sugar and place the solution in a container with a sponge. The butterflies can then feed on the sponge.

Remember to avoid using pesticides or chemicals around the butterflies, as they can be harmful to these delicate creatures.

Providing painted lady caterpillars with the right food at the right life stage can ensure they grow and develop into healthy and beautiful butterflies.

Tips for Ensuring Proper Nutrition for Painted Lady Caterpillars

If you’re raising painted lady caterpillars, it’s important to provide them with a balanced and nutritious diet to ensure their survival and growth. Here are some tips to help you ensure proper nutrition for your painted lady caterpillars:

Feeding Options

  • Provide fresh, pesticide-free plants: Painted lady caterpillars consume a variety of plants, including thistle, sunflower, and mallow. It’s important to provide fresh plants daily and avoid using pesticide-treated plants, which can be harmful to the caterpillars.
  • Use pre-made caterpillar food: If fresh plants are not available, you can use pre-made caterpillar food, which can be purchased at pet stores or online. Make sure to follow the instructions carefully.
  • Supplement with protein: Painted lady caterpillars require protein for proper growth and development. You can provide protein by offering boiled egg yolk or fish food.

Quantity and Frequency

It’s important to provide enough food for your painted lady caterpillars, but not overfeed them. Overfeeding can lead to waste buildup and bacterial growth, which can be harmful to the caterpillars. Here are some guidelines for feeding:

  • Provide fresh plants or pre-made food daily.
  • Offer enough food to last throughout the day but avoid leaving excess food overnight.
  • Monitor the caterpillars’ consumption and adjust the amount of food accordingly.


Painted lady caterpillars require water to stay hydrated and healthy. Here are some tips for providing water:

  • Mist the plants with water daily to provide humidity and hydration.
  • Offer a shallow dish of water with a sponge or cotton ball for the caterpillars to drink from but avoid putting the dish directly in their enclosure to prevent drowning.


In addition to providing fresh plants or pre-made food, you can supplement your painted lady caterpillars’ diet with these options:

Supplement Benefits
Cornmeal Provides carbohydrates
Honey Provides dietary sugar
Calcium carbonate Provides essential calcium

Remember to use supplements sparingly and avoid overfeeding.

FAQs: What Can You Feed Painted Lady Caterpillars?

1. What do painted lady caterpillars eat?

Painted lady caterpillars primarily feed on plants in the Asteraceae family such as thistle, mallow, and hollyhock.

2. Can painted lady caterpillars eat other types of plants?

Yes, painted lady caterpillars can also eat plants in the Fabaceae family such as clovers, alfalfa, and beans.

3. Are there any plants that painted lady caterpillars should not eat?

Yes, you should avoid feeding painted lady caterpillars plants that have been treated with pesticides or are toxic to them such as oleander or milkweed.

4. Can painted lady caterpillars eat fruits or vegetables?

No, painted lady caterpillars do not consume fruits or vegetables.

5. How often do I need to feed painted lady caterpillars?

You should offer fresh food to feed your painted lady caterpillars daily as they have an intense feeding schedule.

6. Should I remove uneaten food from the caterpillar’s enclosure?

Yes, it is advisable to eliminate any uneaten food from the caterpillar’s enclosure to avoid contamination and the forming of mold.

7. What happens if I run out of the food the caterpillars eat?

If you run out of food, you can give them fresh plant cuttings from a similar species or purchase more food from a pet store or online supplier.

Closing Thoughts

Caring for painted lady caterpillars can be fascinating and fun. Knowing what to feed them is critical for their survival and growth throughout their lifecycle. Remember to offer fresh, pesticide-free food to feed them daily and remove the uneaten food from their enclosure to ensure they receive the best care possible. We hope these FAQs have been helpful for you. Thanks for reading and visit us again soon for more tips on how to care for your pets.