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Tuatara: Volume 12, Issue 3, November 1964

Food of Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus [L.]) Larvae in New Zealand

page 154

Food of Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus [L.]) Larvae in New Zealand

Since the Publication of the paper on this subject by Wise (1963) some additional records of the food plants of monarch butterfly larvae have come to the writer's notice. The series of articles and letters that appeared in the Weekly News, Auckland, between March 28 and May 16, 1962, provides the following additional species: Asclepias tuberosa L., Oxypetalum caeruleum Decne (also known as Tweedia versicolor Hook. f.), ‘pepper tree’, and pumpkin (Curcurbita sp.). Also there are reports of caterpillars becoming cannibalistic when short of food and eating pupae of their own species.

The first two plant species mentioned above belong to the family Asclepiadaceae as do the three species listed by Wise (1963), viz. Asclepias curassavica L., Asclepias fruticosa L., and Araujia sericofera Brot. (also known as Physianthus albens Mart.). The exact identity of ‘pepper tree’ is unknown.

In Nelson mature and penultimate monarch larvae have been reared on Oxypetalum, but usually can only be induced to feed upon this when supplies of swan plant (Asclepias fruticosa) have been exhausted. Only the new shoots were eaten. Caterpillars have also been induced to eat pumpkin, both the yellow flesh and thin green skin, but although they will survive on this for three weeks or more they become flaccid and unable to complete metamorphosis.

It seems probable that the preferred food plants of monarch butterfly larvae in New Zealand are the three species of Asclepias and that the other species will only be used when supplies of the former have been exhausted. Urquhart (1960) lists fourteen species of Asclepias on which monarch larvae are known to feed in North America where they seem to feed exclusively on species of this genus.


Urquhart, F. A., 1960. The Monarch Butterfly. Univ. of Toronto Press, Canada xxiv, 361 p.

page 155

Various Authors, 1962. Weekly News, Auckland, 5131 March 18th p. 44, 5133 April 11th p. 42, 5134 April 18th p. 42, 5135 April 26th p. 42, 5138 May 16th pp. 43 and 44.

Wise, K. A. J., 1963: Food-Plants of ‘Monarch’ Butterfly Larvae. Tuafara II (2): 81-82.