Monarch Caterpillars Have Supersized Appetites, Eat 200X their Weight in Milkweed Leaves

Returning from a weekend on the Llano River to find dozens of Monarch butterfly eggs on my just-planted milkweed made my Sunday evening.   Especially after finding no milkweed in the wild or along the river banks.  I fear the brutal freezes and rainless spring have us in a Monarch butterfly food shortage.

The good news is several of my eggs have already hatched.  I’ll bring some of them along to the Land Heritage Institute this Saturday in San Antonio at 12:30 PM if you’d like to see them at the San Antonio Native Festival. I’ll be among several panelists talking about native plants and critters–Monarchs and Swallowtail butterflies, specifically.
You may think concerns are exaggerated regarding satisfying Monarch butterflies’ appetites but take a look at the video and realize that Monarch caterpillars–like all lepidoptera–have a voracious hunger, gorging on 200X their birthweight in milkweed leaves in a brief 10 – 14 days.   Imagine a seven-pound newborn child consuming 1400 pounds of formula in a two-week period.

Commercial butterfly breeders tell me that each Monarch caterpillar can easily defoliate an entire one-gallon milkweed plant–consuming 175 – 200 leaves per caterpillar–before eclosing to the chrysalis stage.
Of course, it depends on the milkweed you supply.  “If you’re feeding wild milkweed in Texas the leaves are meatier and larger than tropical milkweed,” says Linda Rogers of the Butterfly Boutique, a butterfly farming operation in Corsicana, Texas.

No doubt our native Texas milkweed, Antelope Horns, Asclepias asperula, is much heftier than the Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, found in nurseries right now–like beef steak compared to lettuce.  While we would prefer to serve our Monarch visitors only native Texas milkweed, when there’s none available we’ll take what we can get.
For more on milkweed, check out the Texas Butterfly Ranch Milkweed Guide.

9 Responses

  1. Tiffanie Dwyer
    | Reply

    Hello, I have a problem
    So we just bought & planted 2 tropical MW (ea with about 150 leaves, about 3.5′ tall) and found FOUR eggs on them yesterday. We cut the leaf off for each egg and placed them in tablewares with the leaf and a damp papertowel…And surprise, one has already hatched…we put a whole branch in with that one. We are in the process to make our yard a waystation and this happened way too early. We have 3 Common MW and 2 Giants (ea with 20 leaves)…Do we need more?? And i have ordered an enclosure..

    I guess these would be considered the fourth generation since we are in North Houston, so we want to make sure they mature well and make sure we have enough food.

  2. […] Zippykid. (2011, March 25). Monarch Caterpillars Have Supersized Appetites, Eat 200X their Weight in Milkweed Leaves. 2. Wilson, T. V. (2008, April 28). How Caterpillars Work. 3. Raworth, K., & Oxfam. (2012). A […]

  3. isaac
    | Reply

    I aske how much does a catipillar eats in a day and I lean nothing

  4. Madori
    | Reply

    it didn’t
    answer meh question :/

  5. Emily
    | Reply

    I didn’t even learn anything from this, I asked how much can a catapillar eat in one day and it didn’t even give me that answer.

    • Nancee Caye
      | Reply

      I am also looking for some info on how many leaves a caterpillar can eat from hatchling to pupation.
      I realize that the number will differ depending on the type of milkweed plant and the size of its leaves.
      You say that a cat can eat 175 – 200 leaves in its 14 day life as a caterpillar. Can you give me any information on where you found this information. Your post was written in 2011, and I’m writing in 2018.
      thank you for any info you can share.

  6. […] common quandary when blessed with caterpillars noshing nearby is whether or not it’s safe to relocate them once they form their […]

  7. Native American Seed
    | Reply

    nice munching audio effects on the video — Monarchs need milkweeds immediately! (but also thinking longterm… now is the time to plant milkweeds from seed for future caterpillars. Native American Seed has native milkweed seeds available)

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Ha, Emily, you are so right. Plant it and they will come. 🙂

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