I’ve been telling you that we can help Monarch butterflies in our Ecosystem Gardens by planting more milkweed because that is the only plant that Monarch will lay their eggs on.

We’ve also talked about making your wildlife garden a certified Monarch Waystation, which will provide habitat for them, since habitat loss is one of the largest contributors to their declining populations.

Monarch Caterpillars on Tropical Milkweed

And we’ve talked about
the amazing phenomenon that is the Monarch migration to their wintering sites in Mexico, and the scientists who study this migration.

Each time we’ve talked about Monarch Butterflies, I’ve told you about the need to plant more milkweed to help the Monarchs on this journey.

But I just received this comment here at Ecosystem Gardening that seems to suggest that Monarch caterpillars eat other plants besides milkweed:

Hi Carole: I was perusing around searching for more info on plant attractants for hummers and butterflies.
I read your information about milkweeds for monarchs and that milkweed was the only plant they lay their eggs on – to which I would have agreed until last Fall. I was pulling out my tomato plants upon the finishing of the growing season. Was fortunate enough to spot a beautiful green crysallis (sp?) on one as I was throwing it away. I took it off, along with the twig it was on, found a large old clean mayonnaise jar, punched holes in the top and layed the twig inside. I searched all my butterfly books and ascertained it was a monarch crysallis and promptly went on with my busy life, basically forgetting about it. I wish I knew how many days went by when my husband said “What are you doing with this butterfly in a jar?” I said, “What butterfly”? Oh, my goodness, Carole, it was the most beautiful Monarch I have ever seen. I tell everyone you haven’t seen a Monarch until you’ve seen one ‘just born’!!! Anyway, that dispels the info that we have always learned that they lay eggs ONLY on milkweed (which I have a LOT of). Interesting, huh? Knew you would get a kick out of this. Peggy from Connecticut

So, are we now to think that Monarch caterpillars eat tomato plants because we have found a chrysalis there? Does this dispel everything we’ve learned about Monarchs up to this point?

Actually, no.

Monarch caterpillars do only eat plants in the Milkweed family (Asclepias spp), so if we want to help them out in our wildlife gardens, we still need to add these plants to our gardens.

Monarch caterpillars do not feed on tomato plants, despite what may seem like circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

Monarch Caterpillar in Search of a Safe Place to Become a Chrysalis

What happens is this: when a Monarch caterpillar is ready to enter the chrysalis stage of its life cycle, it will leave the milkweed plants that it has been feeding on and travel (often quite a distance) to a place where it feels safe from birds and other predators.

Once the caterpillar finds a safe place, it will assume the “J” position and begin the process of transforming into the chrysalis phase.

Sometimes this safe place will be under a ladder rung, sometimes it will be beneath your air conditioner, or under your window sill. And as Peggy has discovered, sometimes this place will be under a leaf of your tomato plants.

Pretty cool, eh?

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