Chemoreceptors -
How Butterflies Taste

Chemoreceptors play an extremely important role in butterfly life. Outside of helping the butterfly recognize and taste food, they serve to do more.

The sensory systems that butterflies possess are:

  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Touch

The most highly developed senses the butterfly relies on are -
Taste, Smell and Sight.

When seeking food the butterfly places their tarsi, or feet, on possible food sources. Chemo-receptors in the tarsi then relay the food source information to the butterfly brain and simultaneously receptor cells confirm that the food is or is not good. If determined food is good to eat, instinctively the proboscis, or tongue, unrolls ready to take in the nutrients.

    Different receptors assist to identify different types of foods.

Butterfly Tarsi

When the proboscis is placed on the butterfly food, enzymes are excreted that mix with pollens and turn food into a liquid form. The proboscis then sucks up the necessary nutrients.

These receptors also play a major role with the female butterfly seeking out a host plant so she can deposit her eggs. These receptors are found on her legs at the base of her spine.

Using this part of her legs, the female will steadily tap her legs on the plant or leaves. Eventually releasing juices, the female is able to identify the plant as a good host or not by these juices.

Photo: Veruska1969

Other Chemoreceptors FYI:

  • Butterflies are able to touch with sensory hairs, or setae. These are found all over the butterfly. Setae are attached to nerve cells that relay information about hair movement to the butterfly's brain in a similar manner as with tasting.

    Depending on the location of these sensory hairs, the butterfly is able to sense different winds and how to fly in them, positioning other areas of their body (head, legs, antennae, etc.) and using gravity with all of the above.

  • The butterfly caterpillar also has setae. Have you ever touched a caterpillar and seen it roll into a ball? Those are the sensory hairs responding.

  • Not all insects taste in the same manner as the butterfly. For example, bees and ants are able to taste their food through their antennae. Other insects, like we humans, taste with their mouth parts.

This short video captures every detail of
butterfly legs and tarsi and setae.  (No sound)

Related Articles:

Back to the Food Web

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