Milkweed matters: Monarch butterfly (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) survival and development on nine Midwestern milkweed species

  • Published source details Pocius V.M., Debinski D.M., Pleasants J.M., Bidne K.G., Hellmich R.L. & Brower L.P. (2017) Milkweed matters: Monarch butterfly (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) survival and development on nine Midwestern milkweed species. Environmental Entomology, 46, 1098-1105.


This study is summarised as evidence for the following.

Action Category

Rear declining species in captivity

Action Link
Butterfly and Moth Conservation
  1. Rear declining species in captivity

    A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in 2014–2016 in a greenhouse in Iowa, USA (Pocius et al. 2017) reported that monarch butterflies Danaus plexippus were successfully reared in captivity for 12 generations, and found that caterpillar survival differed between milkweed Asclepias species. A population of monarchs was bred in captivity for 12 generations. However, more caterpillars fed on butterfly milkweed Asclepias tuberosa (75%) or poke milkweed Asclepias exaltata (72%) survived to adulthood than caterpillars fed on tall green milkweed Asclepias hirtella (31%) or prairie milkweed Asclepias sullivantii (36%). In May–June 2014, a total of 253 wild monarch eggs and young caterpillars were collected. Caterpillars were fed on common milkweed Asclepias syriaca in the summer, and a tropical milkweed Asclepias curassavica in the autumn and winter. Adults were tested for parasites Ophryocystis elektroscirrha before being allowed to mate. In the 13th generation, individual, newly hatched caterpillars were placed on an 8-week-old milkweed plant grown from seed. Thirty-six blocks, each containing one plant of nine milkweed species (butterfly, poke, tall green, prairie, common, swamp Asclepias incarnata, showy Asclepias speciosa, whorled Asclepias verticillata and honeyvine Cynanchum leave milkweed), were placed in a pop-up cage (57 × 37 × 55 cm) and netting in a greenhouse. From day 12, cages were checked daily, and pupae were moved to a laboratory until emergence.

    (Summarised by: Andrew Bladon)

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