Danaus plexippus

| 18 Comments
Monarch_PH.jpg

Danaus plexippus — Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed, Ohio

18 Comments

But it’s still just a Nymphalidae!!111!one!!

A truly beautiful organism, at every stage in its life-cycle.

Sorry Henry, but the Monarch belongs to the family Danaidae. The Viceroy belongs to the family Nymphalidae. But it’s still a butterfly!

Nice shot. “Bugs” can be tough to shoot. Even when they don’t move around a lot, they’re hard to get in consistent focus.

White Rabbit (White Rabbit) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

These critters are really something. I’ve been looking at them for many years and they are as fascinating as ever. I used to watch them as the fattened up on milkweed and then go and take a couple home just as pupation had begun. Watching that chrysalis become clear and seeing the folded wings inside informed me as a boy about the mutability of life, and of becoming.

Not to mention the butterfly’s migration. Thousands of miles! Made out of a straw and a whisper! (And inwardly some pretty stern stuff.) And don’t forget the gold embellishments on the pupal case.

Don’t ignore the food, though. I discovered something remarkable about the blossoms of milkweed several years ago while spending time with a camera and flowers in Wyoming. I chanced upon a stand of milkweed where the blossoms showed signs of pollination and were just beginning to wither. I think it was Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, but I could be wrong. Here is a picture of the flower head earlier in the season than when I saw it– http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped[…]ed-tracy.jpg

Later in the season there are more full blossoms and they crowd each other closely, their petals sloping outward, away from the center of the head. The lighter colored sepals below slope slightly inward, toward the center. As these elements crowd each other, the spaces in between them become narrow, tapered slots, just a few millimeters wide at the big end. These slots can function well at trapping and holding long, thin things; like the legs of insects. Their effectiveness is enhance by the slow contraction of the flowers as their supply of fluid is restricted. The slots shrink!

Apologies for no picture (saved on floppies that got away) but these flower had caught honey bees, beetles of several types, flies and other bugs by snagging their legs between these gradually converging parts. It was a macabre and somehow solemn sight to see these flowers clutching dessicated and scavenged corpses. I wonder if the plant realizes any benefit from the quiescent bits of chitin it snags. Does anyone know?

But, hey. How ‘bout them Monarchs?

DS | October 27, 2008 8:14 PM | Reply

Sorry Henry, but the Monarch belongs to the family Danaidae. The Viceroy belongs to the family Nymphalidae. But it’s still a butterfly!

Does http://tolweb.org/Danaus_plexippus/76926 have something incorrect? All I did was search for the page for Monarch, then followed the “containing group” links up a few steps. Is this a traditional classification vs. cladistics issue?

Danaus plexippus - The Monarch Butterfly

Containing group: Danaus

Containing group: Danaini - Milkweed Butterflies

Containing group: Danainae

Containing group: Nymphalidae

Limenitis archippus - The Viceroy Butterfly

Containing group: Limenitis

Containing group: Limenitidini

Containing group: Limenitidinae

Containing group: Nymphalidae

Containing group: Papilionoidea - True Butterflies

On a side note, how on Earth does one know how to pronounce all those weird clade names, many of which are so much like each other that they’re bound to confuse people?

Henry

Crudely Wrott said:

Made out of a straw and a whisper! (And inwardly some pretty stern stuff.)

Monarch butterflies are extremely sturdy butterflies, as they are apparently able to withstand a high degree of abuse from would-be predators, such as being repeatedly pecked at by a blue jay. After all, what good is being a noxious animal if a predator has to chew it to pieces before realizing that it’s not good to eat?

One day, my cat, Bobby, had caught a monarch, and was carrying it in his mouth. I made him spit it out so I could see it, and I found out it was still alive, whereupon it began flapping its wings, and, despite having been carried around in my cat’s mouth, flew out of my hand and 20 feet across my backyard. It took a little breather while Bobby raced to reclaim his prize. But, before he could pounce on it again, it then flew up and away, never to be seen again.

Stanton reports

“But, before he [the cat] could pounce on it again, it [the butterfly] then flew up and away, never to be seen again.”

Yes. That is the stern stuff. Or the clever stuff. Or the stuff that works long enough to make many babies. The stuff that works.

Henry,

This may just be one of those lumpers/splitters issues. My information comes from The Study of Insects by Borror and Delong, long considered to be the authority for entomology. Anyway, it’s still a butterfly.

Crudely Wrott wrote: Here is a picture of the flower head earlier in the season than when I saw it– http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped[…]ed-tracy.jpg … It was a macabre and somehow solemn sight to see these flowers clutching dessicated and scavenged corpses.

I notice the flower head is swarming with ants (look closely). Are they feeding on pollen to begin with, and later on the trapped critters?

Henry J said: On a side note, how on Earth does one know how to pronounce all those weird clade names…?

If one is truly cultured, one takes a few semesters of Latin and Greek in high school and college.

If one is truly cultured, one takes a few semesters of Latin and Greek in high school and college.

Oh. Well, in that case, I’m not cultured.

———

Anyway, it’s still a butterfly.

Also a specialized moth. (Keep it away from sweaters!)

———

After all, what good is being a noxious animal if a predator has to chew it to pieces before realizing that it’s not good to eat?

Not much good to the individual butterfly, but it makes that particular predator less apt to munch on the butterfly’s siblings and cousins.

Henry

Butterflies Lightning Bugs Spiders

are “word made flesh.” But cats are, too, per Stanton.

Turban Joe Balasootoe said:

Butterflies Lightning Bugs Spiders

are “word made flesh.” But cats are, too, per Stanton.

It’s the other way around, actually, in that a cat, butterfly, firefly, or spider remain a cat, butterfly, firefly, or spider whether or not some group of humans have gotten around to formulating a name.

Stanton:

Are you always this much fun?

Turban Joe

Paul Burnett said:

Crudely Wrott wrote: Here is a picture of the flower head earlier in the season than when I saw it– http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped[…]ed-tracy.jpg … It was a macabre and somehow solemn sight to see these flowers clutching dessicated and scavenged corpses.

I notice the flower head is swarming with ants (look closely). Are they feeding on pollen to begin with, and later on the trapped critters?

Hello, Paul. The flower heads in the picture still contain blossoms, the round, compact structures below the flowers that are shown open. The individual blossoms on the flower heads I saw, later in the season, had no unopened blossoms and the flowers were crowded very closely together. Like mirrors on a disco ball. The heads appeared quite spherical.

Interestingly, these also had ants scampering about on them. Perhaps they were attracted to the captured insects or maybe they just do that.

NB. A small portion of the doomed bugs were ants.

Doh!

As for the ants in the picture I linked to, they might be feeding on something the milkweed provides, possibly in return for the ants deterring certain insect pests. Or they could be feeding from those pests. Like ants and aphids. Aphids are sometimes called “antcows” because the ants “milk” them. (Unlike lady bugs, which enjoy the taste of aphids.) Or they may have some other business.

Many scenarios exist between plants and insects and I am not sure just what the ants do on the milkweed. But there they are.

One of us will probably look it up before long. ;-)

Crudely wrott wrote

Apologies for no picture (saved on floppies that got away) but these flower had caught honey bees, beetles of several types, flies and other bugs by snagging their legs between these gradually converging parts. It was a macabre and somehow solemn sight to see these flowers clutching dessicated and scavenged corpses. I wonder if the plant realizes any benefit from the quiescent bits of chitin it snags. Does anyone know?

Now that’s interesting. I’ve not noticed it, but that’s probably me and not what’s going on in the flowers. We keep a large patch of milkweeds up on the north end specifically for the Monarchs, so I’ll look more closely next year.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on October 27, 2008 12:00 PM.

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