You know that there is always at least a caterpillar in milkweed. Not many people know what caterpillars that eat milkweed, considering this plant is toxic. There is a specific reason why the caterpillars do not get sick even though they eat milkweed leaves. No, they do not have super power as you think. There is scientific reason that explains this.
Monarch, Caterpillars That Eat Milkweed
At glance, these tiny caterpillars looks cute with yellow, black, and white stripes along their body. While some people call them as milkweed caterpillars, these tiny herbivores are known as monarch caterpillars. Here are some facts that you need to know about monarch caterpillars that love to eat milkweed.
1. Monarch caterpillars will transform to monarch butterflies
Having the same name, it is quite easy to presume that monarch butterflies come from monarch caterpillars. The caterpillars’ beautiful colors of yellow, black, and white turn into orange, black and white as you often see in monarch butterfly. Just like its early stage, monarch butterflies also love to eat milkweeds apart from the fact that they are toxic for most animals. That is why these butterflies are known as milkweed butterflies.
2. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed
Monarchs are the only caterpillars which eat milkweed and this plant is their only food! Yes, monarch caterpillars do not eat any plant but milkweed because it provides nourishment that they need to transform into adult butterfly. Therefore, the population of monarch butterflies depends on milkweed plants. The more plants you see, chances are that there are more monarch butterflies in the area.
Unfortunately, milkweed are rapidly decrease in number. There are several factors that cause decrease in milkweed population such as stemming, the use of weed killer, and others. Moreover, milkweed plants are known as toxic that most people do not want to have this in their backyard especially when they have kids.
3. Why monarch caterpillars do not get sick for consuming milkweed?
There are few things that make milkweed toxic for most animals. These plants have toxic chemicals that are poisonous which is commonly known as cardenolides. If you have ever broken the leaf, you will the white, sticky sap outflow that contains toxins. The sap also contains latex. Besides, milkweed also has hairy leaves that most herbivorous animals refuse.
Why not monarch caterpillars? Milkweed caterpillars have special strategies to disarm the poisonous plants in several ways. The first, they will cut the hair on the surface of the leaves before chowing down. Some leaves are hairier than others, and monarch caterpillars tend to choose one that needs less grooming.
How about the latex? Milkweed caterpillars also have special method to tackle this challenge called trenching. So, the caterpillars will chew a small circle into the leaf and eat the center. Through this way, the latex will drain and caterpillars can eat their meal safely. However, research shows that around 30% of monarch caterpillars die due to latex.
4. Monarch caterpillar predators
Being a toxin-eater does not free monarch caterpillars from predators as you were taught before. There are some predators that have adapted to overcome toxins the caterpillars absorb from milkweed. Let’s mention ants, mantis, spiders, and wasps. These tiny creatures eat not only monarch eggs but also caterpillars, causing decrease in monarch butterflies population.
Monarchs, the caterpillars that eat milkweed look beautiful for its colorful body. Milkweeds that are known as poisonous plants are the only food of monarch caterpillars since it provides nourishment to transform into butterfly. To overcome the toxins contained in milkweed, the caterpillars have some strategies not to get sick for eating the plants. Do you think nature is wonderful?