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what do monarch butterflies eat

what do monarch butterflies eat

what do monarch butterflies eat

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what do monarch butterflies eat

Monarch Butterflies are sometimes called milkweed Butterflies because of their symbiotic relationship with milkweed. They cannot survive without plants in the genus Asclepias. However, a full answer to the question of butterfly nutrition, considering all the sources of nourishment the insects take in during the four stages of the Monarch Butterfly life cycle, goes beyond milkweed, even though.

Do not try to offer them alternate food plants. Some caterpillars like variety in their diet. Monarch Butterfly larvae do not. Milkweed is the only plant food that will keep them alive.

In North America, monarch caterpillars rely on milkweed (Asclepias genus) and a few closely related genera to grow and develop. Female monarchs use a series of cues to find milkweed and lay their eggs on the leaves of this plant. After the egg hatches, the caterpillar feeds on milkweed exclusively, and does not leave the host plant until it is ready to pupate. Therefore, milkweed is known as the “host plant” for monarchs. Adult monarchs drink the nectar of many species of flowering plants. It is important for monarch habitat to provide food sources for both caterpillars and adult butterflies, so plant native milkweed and nectar flowers in your habitat!

what do monarch butterflies eat
what do monarch butterflies eat

Monarch Caterpillars Eat Two Types of Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) often grows along roadsides and in fields, where mowing practices may cut down the milkweed just as the caterpillars are feeding. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a showy, bright orange perennial that gardeners usually prefer for their flower beds. But don’t limit yourself to these two common species; there are dozens of milkweed varieties to plant, and monarch caterpillars will munch them all. Monarch Watch has a nice ​guide to milkweeds for adventurous butterfly gardeners who want to try something different.

What color is nectar? Is it always the same color for each flower or does it change colors?

This is a GREAT question! In my experience, nectar is usually clear. I’ve never seen any that was the color of the flower, but I haven’t looked at nectar from every flower species. This would be a fun thing to test. You could get a very fine capillary tube, like the kind that they use to draw blood after they prick your finger at the doctor’s office, and put it into a flower. You will then be able to see what color the nectar is.

Where does the monarch butterfly fit in the food web is it is considered poisonous by its predators due to the fact that it eats milkweed?

Good question! You must be taking an ecology class, or have an excellent science teacher! It turns out that most biologists have studied the predators of adult monarchs, and not the larvae. Many insects, spiders, and other invertebrates eat the larvae, so monarchs are like other herbivores; they eat plants, and are in turn eaten by predators.

what do monarch butterflies eat
what do monarch butterflies eat

Do Monarch Butterflies Need Food

Monarch butterflies don’t eat food as you might recognize it. They cannot chew any solids. Instead, these colorful creatures have a specially adapted face with a proboscis that they dip into flowers for nectar.

Monarch adults feed on many species of flowers, and they can even sip the juice from fruits when they are available.

A monarchs’ proboscis stays curled into a spiral while they are dying. However, once they reach a tube-shaped flower full of nectar, they unfurl their unique snouts using hydrostatic pressure.

Intriguingly, when they are forming in the chrysalis, the proboscis is formed in two halves. Upon emerging, they ‘zip’ or fit these two pieces into one long tube, which may explain why they don’t eat the first day as this grows together.

How Long Can A Monarch Butterfly Go Without Eating

A monarch butterfly can overwinter for about three months without eating after it migrates. However, it needs to eat during its pre-flight life stage to build up energy for the 3,000-mile flight south.

When they first emerge, most monarch butterflies do not feed at all on the first day.

If you are raising monarchs in captivity, they may not eat the second day either, or very little. Unless the temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, they will conserve their energy. After that, the butterflies need daily feeding.

Here are the safe foods to give them.

  • Fresh Fruits: You’ll need to cut these open and chose extra moist varieties like watermelon and grapes.
  • Juicy Juice: This brand, in particular, offers a good blend of what growing monarchs need to stay hydrated and absorb nutrition.
  • Monarch Nectar: There is pre-formulated monarch food available online.
  • Gatorade: Make sure this is the regular sugar-packed variety and not a sugar-free variation.

Monarchs lifecycle

The monarch lifecycle consists of four distinct phases: egg, larva (or caterpillar), pupa (or chrysalis) and adult butterfly. It takes approximately one month to complete the progression from egg to adult. The adult will for between two and six weeks if born in the summer; if born in the late summer and destined to migrate south, the adult will live for between six and nine months.

what do monarch butterflies eat
what do monarch butterflies eat


Female monarch butterflies will lay a single, oblong-shaped, yellowy white egg on a given milkweed plant, typically on the underside of a leaf near the top of the plant. Egg is approximately 1mm in diameter and has tiny ridges along the outside. A tiny, pale green larva, only a few mm in length, hatches within 3 to 8 days, depending on air temperatures. The adult butterfly will typically lay several hundred eggs during her lifespan.

Larva (Caterpillar)

After eating their eggshells Monarch Butterfly caterpillars usually eat nothing but milkweed. They do little else but eat milkweed until they literally burst out of their skins (molt). However, some tidy individuals will eat their old skins after they crawl out in their new ones. Each caterpillar goes through five skins with different arrangements of colors on each skin.

The stage of a caterpillars life that it spends in each skin is called an instar. During their first two instars Monarch Butterfly caterpillars gnaw small round holes in milkweed leaves. The leaves ooze latex to seal the cut edges so the leaves can survive a little damage, and the caterpillars nibble around in a circular pattern for as long as they can get at fresh leaf material without having to eat latex. Then they move on to a different part of the leaf, or a different leaf. In this way the hungry caterpillars can eat almost continuously without damaging the milkweed plant. Milkweed makes Monarch Butterflies poisonous to vertebrate predators.


In the next two instars the caterpillars start eating from the edges of the leaves. By this time the milkweed plant has had time to grow big enough and produce enough leaves that it can spare the leaves the caterpillar eats.

In the fifth instar the finger-long caterpillars are very efficient eaters and may be able to dispose of a whole milkweed leaf in five minutes. Their digestive systems store cardenolides (the biochemicals that make milkweed mildly toxic to other animals, including humans) in their body tissues, store up fat and nutrients for the caterpillars to live on during pupation, and discard liberal amounts of chewed-up plant material called frass. Hungry as they are, they usually dont consume the whole food plant. After devouring a few leaves they stop eating and pupate.

Pupa (Chrysalis)

The mature caterpillar may leave its host milkweed plant in search of a convenient place to pupate. When it is ready to begin pupating, the caterpillar hangs from hindmost legs on the underside of a leaf or stem, attached via a silk pad which it spins. Over the course of the next 8-15 days, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis to the adult butterfly. The chrysalis is green coloured to camouflage the immobile pupa.

Adult Monarch Butterfly

that the males have on each hindwing. Butterflies will begin mating within 3-8 days after emerging from the chrysalis. If born in early- or mid-summer, the butterfly will live for between two and six weeks, focusing on reproduction while feeding from the nectar of blossoming flowers. Adults that emerge late in summer will live considerably longer – between 6 and 9 months – as they must migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico and California.

what do monarch butterflies eat
what do monarch butterflies eat


Monarchs, like all butterflies, have a different diet during their larval caterpillar phase than they do as winged adults. As caterpillars, monarchs feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, wildflowers in the genus Asclepias. North America has several dozen native milkweed species with which monarchs coevolved and upon which they rely to complete their life cycle.

Milkweed produces glycoside toxins to deter animals from eating them, but monarchs have evolved immunity to these toxins. As they feed, monarch caterpillars store up the toxins in their body, making them taste bad, which in turn deters their predators. The toxins remain in their system even after metamorphosis, protecting them as adult butterflies as well.

As adults, monarchs feed on nectar from a wide range of blooming native plants, including milkweed.

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