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So far this summer, I’ve seen a fair number of monarch butterflies as well as some caterpillars of the same species. These numbers are certainly an improvement from a few summers ago when only a few monarchs were seen. They are easily found this summer in gardens or out in the wild, wherever there are flowers.
Adult monarchs can usually be found near flowers where they feed on nectar, or near milkweed patches where they lay eggs. They may lay one or two eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf and then move on to another plant. The eggs are tiny white specks, visible if you look closely.
Besides the eggs, monarch larvae can be found on these plants—a little pale when they first hatch, but soon developing the highly visible stripes as they grow. Monarch caterpillars are found only on milkweed because that’s the only plant they eat during their larval stage. If there were no milkweed, there would be no monarchs.
Monarchs are not the only insect to utilize the milkweed, however. There are other insects that can be found on milkweed plants. Milkweed contains cardiac glycoside, which is toxic to other animals and humans. These insects that feed on the milkweed are immune to the toxic compounds; they are brightly colored or have distinct markings that appear as a warning to would-be predators.
Whether you see beetles, caterpillars, or aphids on milkweed, they will be easy to spot. Some of these insects are host-specific to milkweed, and others have other host plants to feed on. While looking for these critters, you may also see monarch and other butterfly species visiting milkweed plants that are in bloom. On your next butterfly walk, check out these specialized insects.