The active compounds of oak-sap odour in attracting adults of two butterflies, Kaniska canace (L.) and Vanessa indica (Herbst) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae), were identified by chemical analyses, electroantennogram (EAG) and two behavioural assays: proboscis extension reflex (PER) and attraction to artificial tree models. Fourteen compounds were identified from two sap samples collected in 1997 and 1998, of which the major volatiles were ethanol and acetic acid (≈ 900 p.p.m. and 500 p.p.m. in sap, respectively). However, the chemical composition of the minor volatiles varied considerably between the two samples. Among 13 chemicals tested, V. indica showed strong PER to five aliphatic acids (acetic, propionic, butyric, isobutyric and isovaleric), 2-methylpropan-1-ol and 3-hydroxybutan-2-one, whereas the PER-active compounds for K. canace were these seven compounds and also ethanol, 3-methylbutan-1-ol and 1-hydroxypropan-2-one. In two-choice behavioural bioassays, the model scented with a sap-odour mimic, which was an aqueous mixture of the PER-active compounds, was more attractive to the two butterflies than an unscented control. These results demonstrated that the sap odour stimulates foraging behaviour of the butterfly. Although EAG responses of both butterflies to 3-methylbutan-1-ol and that of V. indica to 2-methylpropan-1-ol were positively dose-dependent, responses to other compounds were not strong and not dose-dependent at 1–100 μg doses. These EAG responsiveness suggests that the olfactory receptors for these compounds might be few in the antenna and that the butterflies have enough olfactory sensitivity to the dose of 1 μg.