Mmmm...milkweed! July 23, 2007
This weekend was dedicated to dragonflies- but even then, I am always on the look-out for lepidoptera. We were searching milkweed plants in the hopes of photographing Monarch butterfly eggs. A very willing female flew in and layed eggs right in front of my eyes- on the under-side of the milkweed flowers. Unfortunately, those are too small to do any justice on a blog photo, but this willing Monarch-gonna-be model posed for the camera while munching Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.
There are two interesting stories to this blog. First of all, the plant species was supposed named "syriaca" meaning: of Syria. Someone must have gotten confused in the laboratory We know this is a native American plant, but apparently Linnaeus was having a bad day and mistook it for a Syrian sample and the name stuck.
The caterpillar is a Monarch, and as most know, it eats the toxic- to-birds chemicals of the milkweed plant, without ill effect. When it become an adult monach butterfly, it retains its poisonous nature and birds leave them alone. Viceroy butterflies look a great deal like Monarchs and were thought to be protected by looking similar to something that tasted so yucky. This is called Batesen mimicry.
Further studies have now revealed this is not the whole truth. Actually the Viceroys taste yucky too! And now they are considered to be protected by Muellerian mimicry, whereby two poisonous animal reinforce each others safety, by both tasting yucky. I know it is hard to believe our elementary teachers were wrong, but you can read all about it here, if you don't believe me.
And just remember to enjoy the beauty of the milkweed and the Monarch- but don't eat either one.