Performance of Early Instar Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus L.) on Nine Milkweed Species Native to Iowa
Over the past two decades, the population of monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains has experienced a significant decline. Habitat restoration that includes milkweed plants is crucial to boost population numbers in the breeding range. Monarch butterfly larvae use milkweeds as their only host plant, but larval performance on different milkweed species is not well documented. We examined early instar survival and growth on nine milkweed species native to Iowa. These included Asclepias exaltata (poke milkweed), A. hirtella (tall green milkweed), A. incarnata (swamp milkweed), A. speciosa (showy milkweed), A. sullivantii (prairie milkweed), A. syriaca (common milkweed), A. tuberosa (butterfly milkweed), A. verticillata (whorled milkweed), and Cynanchum laeve (honey vine milkweed). In laboratory and greenhouse experiments, larval survival on all nine milkweed species did not differ. Larvae that fed on C. laeve plants were an instar behind larvae that fed on any other species, while larvae that fed on A. verticillata weighed more than larvae that fed on any other species. Our results show that early instar larvae can survive on all nine milkweed species.