About 90% of insects make up the animal species, and these little critters are in every habitat on the earth. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors and have adapted to survive even in the harshest environments.
One major adaptation that allows insects to thrive is their diverse diet. Now, you may wonder, “What do insects eat?” The answer may surprise you.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the diets of insects. This includes the types of foods they consume, feeding habits, and a list of typical insect diets.
What Do Insects Eat?
Insects are like a mother’s dream; they eat a wide range of food without complaining! If you want to know more about insects, visit this page.
Many insects consume plants, while others eat other insects or even blood. A lot of insects eat plant nectar and even pollen. Additionally, some insects will consume any food scraps you leave lying around. You’ll often see ants or flies swarming around garbage or food waste.
Knowing exactly what insects eat depends on the species.
How Are Insects Classified According to Their Diet?
Insects are generally classified as carnivorous, herbivorous, coprophagous, hematophagous, omnivorous, or saprophagous. These classification categories refer to the types of food that the insect consumes.
What Do Carnivorous Insects Eat?
While humans often think of carnivores as large predators like lions or wolves, many insect species fall into this category. Carnivorous insects feed on other animals as their primary source of nutrition.
These insects may hunt and capture their prey, or they may rely on trapping mechanisms such as web-spinning or pitfall traps.
Mantises, apart from insects, also target other arthropods like spiders or even small vertebrate animals!
Some examples of carnivorous insects include:
- Praying mantises
- Assassin bugs
- Carnivorous beetles
- Carnivorous caterpillars
What Do Herbivorous Insects Eat?
Have you ever encountered a caterpillar munching on a leaf? or perhaps a moth devouring a flower petal? These insects are herbivores, meaning they feed on plant materials such as leaves, flowers, and fruits.
Herbivorous insects are crucial to the health of ecosystems as they help with pollination and seed dispersal. Additionally, some herbivorous insects serve as a natural form of pest control. They do so by feeding on plants that may otherwise become harmful weeds.
While not all insects are herbivores, there is a large diversity within this insect category. Some examples of herbivorous insects are:
- Leaf beetles
- Gall wasps
- Leaf-mining flies
- Plant bugs
What Do Coprophagous Insects Eat?
While it may sound unappetizing to us humans, some insect species feed on animal feces. They are what we classify as coprophagy. This behavior is common in dung beetles, as well as certain fly species, such as the screwworm fly and flesh flies.
Despite the gross factor, these insects serve an important ecological role. They aid in the decomposition and nutrient cycling of animal waste. In fact, some farmers even encourage populations of dung beetles on their lands. This helps them with manure management.
Other examples of coprophagous insects include certain types of mites, springtails and some of the weirdest insects in the world. These tiny creatures often inhabit the feces of larger animals, feeding on the organic matter and microbes present.
What Do Hematophagous Insects Eat?
Hematophagous insects are those that feed on blood, often from animals or even humans. These insects use their saliva to penetrate the skin. They then suck out blood as a source of food. Insects do this to also get necessary nutrients like iron.
Some common hematophagous insects include mosquitoes, bed bugs, ticks, fleas, and vampire bats. These creatures will drink blood from any available host. But, some species have evolved to specialize in feeding on specific animals, such as the horse tick or bird mosquito.
What Do Omnivorous Insects Eat?
Omnivorous insects primarily eat plant and animal materials, making them opportunistic eaters. These insects may consume a variety of food sources depending on their environment and availability. Omnivores feed on leaves, flowers, and fruits but may also hunt small insects.
Some examples of omnivorous insects include:
- Acrobat ants
- American spider beetle
- Appalachian salmon fly
- Banana moth
- Carmel cricket
Did you Know?
The banana moth lives in different European countries but was eradicated in some. They feed on 22 families’ plants. It is a pest in bananas and tropical crops such as pineapple, potato, and maize.
What Do Saprophagous Insects Eat?
Critters that feed on decaying, dead organic matter are Saprophagous insects. These insects play an important role in the decomposition process. They break down dead plants and animals and recycle their nutrients into the ecosystem.
Examples of saprophagous insects include dung beetles, carrion beetles, blowflies, and flesh flies. Many of these species are also attracted to and will feed on decaying fruits or other plant materials.
Other saprophagous insects include certain types of mites, springtails, and cockroaches. These creatures often inhabit rotting logs or leaf litter, feeding on the organic matter present. Some species may even consume fungi or slime mold.
Common Insects and Their Diets
Below is a list of some common insect species and their primary diets:
What Do Ants Eat?
Among the most common and widespread insect species are ants. They primarily eat seeds and other plant matter. Also, feed on insects, meat, and sugary substances.
These omnivorous insects also often act as scavengers, consuming any available food source. There is a wide range of ant species, and their diet can vary depending on their environment and available resources.
What Do Butterflies Eat?
The main source of food for butterflies is nectar from flowers. They get this using their long, tube-like tongues. But, some butterfly species feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, and bird droppings. In their caterpillar stage, butterflies primarily consume the leaves of plants.
What Do Bees Eat?
Known for their honey production, bees primarily consume nectar and pollen from flowers. They also need a constant supply of water to survive. In addition to nectar, some bees (like the honey bee) eat ripe fruit and tree sap.
What Do Grasshoppers Eat?
As herbivores, grasshoppers mainly feed on plants and plant matter, including leaves, stems, flowers, and crops. They may also consume other insects or small animals. This still depends on their environment and available food sources.
What Do Wasps Eat?
The diet of different species of wasps varies. The adults tend to feed on sugars from nectar, honeydew, or a sugary fluid made by their larvae. On the other hand, adults feed their larvae bits of insects that they have killed and chopped.
What Do Caterpillars Eat?
Leaves, flower petals, stems, pollen, and fruit are the main dietary sources for caterpillars. Like butterflies, they are herbivores in their larval stage. They then transform into moths or butterflies in their pupal stage.
Some caterpillar species may also eat other insects if necessary for survival.
Caterpillars eat a lot!! They can be 100 times larger than when it’s emerged from the egg!
What Do Houseflies Eat?
Houseflies are general feeders. This means they will consume anything, including food and feces, from both humans and animals.
They can only consume liquids due to their spongy mouths, so they must regurgitate food to liquefy it. They love to feed on various materials, including ripe fruits and vegetables.
What Do Lady Bugs Eat?
Lady bugs come from the beetle family and are primarily voracious eaters of aphids and other harmful plant-eating insects. Yet, they also consume pollen and nectar from flowers.
In extreme cases of hunger, ladybugs may feed on other smaller insects or even the leaves of plants.
What Do Cockroaches Eat?
Cockroaches are popular for their diverse diet and ability to survive in harsh environments. They consume decaying organic matter and garbage. They may also eat plants, live or dead insects, and human food scraps.
In some cases, people have also seen them consuming non-edible materials such as soap and glue. These materials contain a source of protein for the cockroach.
What Do Beetles Eat?
The answer really depends on the kind of beetle. Most beetle species are herbivores. They feed on plants and plant matter such as leaves, bark, fruit, and stems. However, some beetles also consume other insects or decaying organic matter.
The diet of beetles can vary greatly depending on their specific species and habitat.
What Do Praying Mantises Eat?
While they are popular for their carnivorous diet, praying mantises also consume plants. Their main food source consists of other insects, which they capture and eat using their powerful front legs. They may also eat spiders, crickets, and even small birds.
What Do Insects Eat in the Forest?
Insects in the forest will eat a variety of things. This includes plants, other insects, and even decaying animal matter. Some common insect predators in the forest include beetles, ants, and butterflies.
Beetles will often feed on plant material such as leaves or fruits, while ants may hunt other insects for food. Butterflies typically drink nectar from flowers as their main source of nutrition.
Depending on the specific species, some insects may also act as scavengers. They’ll feed on dead animals or decaying plant matter.
In the forest, the diet of insects varies and is largely influenced by their species and behavioral qualities.
What Do Insects Eat in the Rainforest?
Compared to a forest, the rainforest has a greater diversity of plant and animal life. As such, insects in the rainforest have even more options for their diets.
In addition to plants and other insects, some rainforest insects may also feed on:
Amphibians, small mammals, or bird eggs
Did you Know?
Some species of ants and termites can even farm and cultivate their food, such as fungus.
The diet of insects in the rainforest can be extremely diverse and often includes living and decaying matter.
What Do Small Insects Eat?
Small insects, such as aphids and fruit flies, feed on plant material. Some may also drink plant sap or nectar from flowers.
However, some small insects can also act as predators and hunt other smaller insects for food. For example, parasitic wasps will lay their eggs inside caterpillars, providing food for their young as they develop.
In addition, some small insects may scavenge for food. They may also feed on fragments of decomposing matter. All of these depend on the particular species and behavioral characteristics of each.
What Insects Eat Grass?
Beetles, grass moths, mole crickets, and armyworms are just some insects that feed on grass. These insects typically chew on the leaves or roots of grass plants as their main source of nutrition.
Other insects, such as aphids, Lygaeidae, and leafhoppers, may also feed on the sap of grass plants.
In addition, some insect larvae may also feed on the grass while they are developing. An example of this is the European chafer grub, which feeds on grassroots as a larva before becoming a beetle in its adult form.
The diet of insects can vary greatly depending on their species and habitat. In any given environment, insects may feed on plants, other insects, and even small animals. Some may also act as scavengers or cultivate their own food sources.
This guide has provided you with everything you need to know about what insects eat in different environments.
However, remember that there may be even more variations and exceptions within each category. That just goes to show the diverse and fascinating world of insect-feeding behaviors!
Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He’s also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh – and he wrote this website.
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