Monarch butterflies have made their way to Texas, but unfortunately not much milkweed greets them upon arrival. A harsh, dry winter preceded by drought and schizophrenic weather have left the sought-after perennial a no-show in many Texas gardens–and on roadsides and ranch land.
Milkweeds, that is, any Asclepias species, are the host plants to Monarch butterflies and the only plant on which they will lay eggs to continue their life cycle.
The Monarch butterfly on the left was fed with pumpkin during its final instar. Photo by Ellen Reid
“The butterfly on the left was fed with pumpkin during its final instar. The one on the right was reared on milkweed,” Ellen Reid wrote via email all the way from St. Arnaud, Victoria, Australia. “We couldn’t distinguish between them in any way.” Reid shared a photo of “pumpkin frass”–orange colored butterfly poop which is produced in volumes in the final stages of the caterpillars metamorphosis. Usually the frass is dark green or even brown, but “pumpkin frass” looks like the food that fueled it.
The frass, or butterfly poop, of pumpkin fed Monarch caterpillars reflects the food’s orange tint.
Photo courtesy Ellen Reid
Paul Addington tried feeding his Monarch caterpillars cucumbers. It worked. “These cats are eating the skin of the cucumber,” relayed Addington. “These were organic, but still felt like they were waxy, so [they were] heavily scrubbed first.” Addington said the caterpillars indeed preferred milkweed when given a choice. “All 52 of mine finished on cucumber, looked great and joined the wild,” he said, adding “UPDATE: must be fresh, crunchy cucumbers.…two-weeks-in-the-fridge cukes were rejected with enthusiasm….what an uproar!”
Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, chimed in to the conversation, letting folks know that the alternatives have been known for a while.
“These alternatives have been utilized by many people in the past. They only seem to work for fifth instar larvae that are less than four days from pupating. Many of the larvae will not make these transitions successfully.”
So Monarch butterfly caterpillars appear to be more adaptable than we thought.
Monarch caterpillars in the fifth instar will eat cucumbers.
But they have to be FRESH cucumbers! Photo courtesy Paul Addington
Like what you’re reading? Follow butterfly and native plant news at the Texas Butterfly Ranch. Sign up for email delivery, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, @monikam.