A Caterpillar is a Picky Eater

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 03, 2010

There's a lot of talk about Butterfly Gardens and the flowering plants that provide the nectar for our flying friends, but what about caterpillars? It's not the nectar they crave but the green leaf, and not just any green leaf--caterpillars can be rather picky about their diet. Take, for example, our striped Danaus plexippus or Monarch Buttefly, it spends most of its time feeding on a singular diet of poisonous milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa. This consumption of milkweed builds up in the caterpillars system so as an adult, the Monarch is poisonous to those that eat it – its one defense against predators. Although, Asclepias tuberosa is a stunning native wildflower and the sole larval host for the Monarch Butterfly in it's pupating stage, it's rarely found in gardens, even in some "Butterfly Gardens". What is often in "Butterfly Gardens" is the ubiquitous Butterfly Bush, Buddleia, which attracts many butterflies but doesn't provide a source of food for the young Danaus and is also an invasive exotic. A female Monarch will only lay an egg where it knows it's offspring will find food, therefore Butterfly Weed is crucial to the Monarch population. Here are some images of the Danaus plexippus munching away on the Asclepias we have in our nursery on the roof as well as some of the other natives we have up there like Black Cohosh and thistles.






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