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9.19: Insect Food

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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How do butterflies eat?

You might have seen butterflies searching for food on a flower before. They have long, tube-like mouthparts that can reach deep within a flower. The butterfly uses this mouth-tube to siphon nectar from the flower, as if sucking through a straw.

Insect Food

Insects have different types of appendages (arms and legs) adapted for capturing and feeding on prey. They also have special senses that help them detect prey. Furthermore, insects have a wide range of mouthparts used for feeding.

  • Insects like mosquitoes and aphids have special mouthparts that help them pierce and suck. Some are herbivorous, like aphids and leafhoppers, and suck up the sap from plants. Others, like assassin bugs (Figure below) and female mosquitoes, eat other insects.

An assassin bug feasts on a fly.

  • Examples of chewing insects include dragonflies, grasshoppers, and beetles. Some larvae have chewing mouthparts, as in the caterpillar stages of moths and butterflies (Figure below).

Caterpillar feeding on a host plant

Caterpillar feeding on a host plant.

  • Some insects use siphoning, as if sucking through a straw, like moths and butterflies. This long mouth-tube that they use to suck up the nectar of the flower is called a proboscis.
  • Some moths, however, have no mouthparts at all.
  • Some insects obtain food by sponging, like the housefly. Sponging means that the mouthpart can absorb liquid food and send it to the esophagus. The housefly is able to eat solid food by releasing saliva and dabbing it over the food. As the saliva dissolves the food, the sponging mouthpart absorbs the liquid food.


  • proboscis: Tube-like mouthpart modified for sucking and feeding.
  • sponging: Process of liquefying solid food using saliva, then soaking it up.


  • Some insects, such as aphids, have piercing-sucking mouthparts. Other insects, like grasshoppers, have chewing mouthparts.
  • Insects can have specialized mouthparts, such as a proboscis, to siphon the nectar from a flower.


Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Describe a honeybee's mouthparts.
  2. Describe the process of sponging.
  3. How do the mouthparts of cockroaches differ from the mouthparts of butterflies?
  4. What do the design of insect mouthparts tell us about their lifestyles?
  1. What do these ants do with the plants they gather?
  2. What would happen to the ants' "crop" if the ants in a colony were to all die?
  3. What tool do the ants have to try to control "pest" fungi?


  1. How do butterflies obtain their food?
  2. Explain how insects use sponging to obtain their food.

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Tube-like mouthpart modified for sucking and feeding.


Process of liquefying solid food using saliva, then soaking it up.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
7 , 8
Date Created:
Nov 29, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 30, 2016
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