Please clarify: Monarch food source v. host plant

mmqchdygg(Z5NH)August 5, 2011

Please clarify this for me. I just got an email from the "Defenders of Wildlife" and it makes a statement that the "...only food source" for the Monarch BF is the milkweed.

I *thought* I read it somewhere (here?) that the milkweed is one of many/several FOOD/NECTAR sources, but is actually the only HOST plant for egg laying.

Is this not correct?

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To my knowledge monarch females lay eggs on milkweed, exclusively. When the caterpillars emerge, they eat milkweed leaves, and sometimes the flowers, as well. But they only feed on milkweed. There are lots of flowering plants that adult monarchs will go to for nectar, like purple coneflowers, silphium, monarda, and liatris.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:09PM
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There have been rare reports of monarch larvae eating pumpkin and squash, but none I've seen from credible sources.

most milkweeds are BOTH host and nectar source for monarchs.

Monarch adults nectar from many sources. Eric, are you sure about the monarda? we get a lot of monarch traffic and in 3 years of growing Monarda, I have NEVER seen a monarch on it. However, it is a favorite of both black and eastern swallowtails...also the hummingbirds.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:40PM
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Not sure about monarda-now that you mention it, I often see bees on monarda, but maybe not butterflies. There are always questions like this when words like "host," which is used in common speech, are made to serve as precise scientific terms.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 5:53PM
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The Defenders simply left out the word larvae or caterpillars.
Could have been an oversight.

An extensive list of Monarch hostplants is in the FAQ and includes several non-milkweeds.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:27PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Mona (runmede) did not post her monarchs eating pumpkins on this site (at least I don't remember it) but she did post it on Monarch Watch forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Feeding 5th Instar Monarch Caterpillar Pumpkin

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 7:52AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Too bad the wording was not crafted a little more carefully, you are probably not the only person confused by the email.

Re: Monarda - the only large butterfly I have seen nectaring on the Monarda is the Spicebush Swallowtail. Also they are the only large butterfly I've seen nectar regularly on Phlox paniculata and Lobelia cardinalis. Maybe they have a longer proboscis or something.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 10:28AM
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bandjzmom(7 NWGeorgia)

I think I read your question a little differently than others did. Maybe (probably) it's just me. LOL. The Monarch BUTTERFLY will nectar on many different flowers, so when you are speaking of "food" sources for these butterflies, there are many. However, the Monarch caterpillars require Milkweeds to munch. So then, food for the butterflies and food for the caterpillars are two separate issues. The "host" plant would be the one that the eggs would be laid upon and the caterpillars would consume. HTH :o)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 11:30AM
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KC, thanks for posting that link. I remember what my issue was with that report...

If it ONLY works with 5th instar cats, then are they REALLY eating it or were they just ready to pupate anyway?

notice there are no follow-up posts saying "YES!" I tried this and it works!

Call me skeptical, but I don't buy it.

I also read that they will eat watermelon. Actually tried that and all they did was crawl off it in search of more milkweed.

If anyone else has tried pumpkin or watermelon and had success please share.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 12:52PM
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