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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Monarch caterpillars eat ivy

Aug 25, 2019 by Garrett Smith

For two years in a row I have found monarch caterpillars on ivy plants in my backyard. I have never found them on any other plant except this particular ivy. I raised it to produce a monarch butterfly, keeping it safe my window pane. This year I found 4 more. Same ivy. They're now all 4 in my window and eating ivy as we speak. I found this post because I was doing research to discover why they are eating the ivy. Has anyone else seen this? One caterpillar is only 2cm long and so it's definitely not searching for chrysalis mounting point.


Monarchs

Aug 11, 2019 by Dawn Kiernan

I have a video of two monarch catapillers eating the tops of my carrot in my garden, if you still think they only eat milkweed, I can send you the video.
Let me know.
Dawn.


Aug 10, 2019 by Corinne

I also had 2 monarch butterfly caterpillars on my orange butterfly bush. There is no milkweed in my yard


Monarch caterpillars

Jul 26, 2019 by Karen Schur

I have a lot of milkweed in the woods behind my house, the monarchs visit the plants but have not laid any eggs on it. At the front of my house I have several orange butterfly weed plants and there are about 7 caterpillars eating the leaves and flowers of these plants. I put some Brazilian verbena in this year and neither the monarchs or bees seem interned in them.


Jun 03, 2019 by Marsha giddings

Just had a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis. She is having a near impossible time attaching to hang and dry her wings but is leaking an orange-rust looking fluid. Is this the “kiss of death ?”


monarch survival

Apr 23, 2019 by Kenneth Hakanson

Swan plant commonly planted in our NZ gardens to encourage Monarch butterflies in my opinion does not supply enough cardenolides to deter or poison its enemies, wasps remove the cats when small and birds are eating the large ones, I've got many Swan bushes but no cats grow into larger size because of the wasp, only in Autumn do I notice them appear despite seeing Monarchs fluttering around.
I guess the only solution is a close mesh bushhouse.


Mar 13, 2019 by Nathan Man

Oh my god!!! The caterpillars that are eating your fennel, dill, and parsley are swallowtail caterpillars!!! Before you comment check the other comments so you know what’s going on!!! Also monarch don’t eat tomato. They travel from the milkweed to another plant to pupate.


Monarch. Butterflies eating tomato. Plants

Oct 16, 2018 by Joanne silva

While gardening in my adult sons tomato garden I came across 5 monarch monarch caterpillars. They definitely were attaché to the tomato and definitely eating the leaves. I was very surprised, but it is true. My son has no milkweed growing in his yard, but his neighbors do.


Oct 13, 2018 by pat flannery

I found 3 Swallow Tail caterpillars on my parsley plant, in the corner of my deck, and a few days later, only 1 can be found.(btw, It's now Oct.12 and going to 40's overnight.) What could have happened to the other 2?? Sincerely, Pat Flannery.


Oct 13, 2018 by pat flannery

I found 3 Swallow Tail caterpillars on my parsley plant, in the corner of my deck, and a few days later, only 1 can be found.(btw, It's now Oct.12 and going to 40's overnight.) What could have happened to the other 2?? Sincerely, Pat Flannery.


Question on Monarch

Sep 16, 2018 by Rebecca Reynolds

I have a picture of a caterpillar, is it a Monarch and what is the weed it's on? https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10212758728743067&set=a.1682930553107&type=3&theater¬if_t=feedback_reaction_generic¬if_id=1537018286432339


Aug 28, 2018 by Michele Luvera

If milkweed is the only place that Monarch butterflies will lay eggs, then why are there caterpillars all over my fennel? I do have milkweed that we planted in the backyard, but it’s about 100 ft from my front yard fennel. And they are loving the fennel and munching away. Do they crawl that far? Meanwhile, some caterpillars in the backyard they are munching away on the dill, while leaving the milkweed alone.


Do Monarch Caterpillars Eat Anything Besides Milkweed

Aug 24, 2018 by Bonnnie Dalzell

I think it would help this discussion topic if you posted a picture of the Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar with the article. The markings are similar enough that some people could be mistaking the Black Swallowtail caterpillar for the Monarch caterpillar.
Without milkweed to eat the Monarch will not become poisonous to its predators,


Swallowtail Cats Eating Parsley

Jul 16, 2018 by Dee Dee

Hi- Nice article on monarchs. To Amber: I'm guessing that those are black swallowtail butterflies eating your parsley. The caterpillars look very similar to the monarch cats. I get them on my parsley and dill every year.


Is Parsely a type of milkweed?

Jun 10, 2018 by Amber

I wish we could post pictures here because...I have several cats, in at least 4 different stages, eating almost the entire supply of parsley in my herb garden. So, my question is the comment title; “Is parsley a type of milkweed”?
Thanks in advance for any feedback!
Amber
Gonzales, La


Monarchs caterpillar food!

Jun 02, 2018 by Rich Franco

Hello!
I've been raising Monarchs now for about 2 years and have released about 400-500. Have also "tagged" butterflies and released them here in Central Florida. When you run out of milkweed and YOU WILL, the 5th Instar will eat Butternut Squash, even some of the younger ones do and I've video taped them doing so. I make a butternut popsicle and put that on a metal skewer or just cut some into strips, julienne style. I take the largest cats and put them in a very large plastic jar(Snyders Pretzels) and a paper towel and then the butternut squash strips. As they finish and start to crawl up and out of the jar, I then put them on the inside of our screen porch and they climb up and form their chrysalis! Saved me many times! Not ALL will eat, but probably 80-90% will.....


Swallowtail Caterpillar

Sep 19, 2017 by Christina Porter

I think some people might be mistaking the black swallowtail caterpillar for the monarch caterpillar. Black swallowtails eat parsley, fennel, and dill. I have seen plenty of black swallowtails on those herbs but never a monarch.


monarch caterpillar food

Aug 30, 2017 by Julie Free Free Heart

I have two parsley plants that have four or more Monarch caterpillars eating them to the quick. I was glad to share!


Surprised!

Aug 12, 2017 by Audrey

I came to your site because after years of collecting and sharing monarch eggs and caterpillars, and enjoying my butterfly garden, complete with milkweed, I found a full grown monarch caterpillar on my potted verbena flowers. That pot is quite a distance from any milkweed. I see in your article that they can travel a distance from their host plant to pupate. Thank you for the info. And in response to the previous comments, I have found many caterpillars on my parsley as well, but they are Black Swallowtail butterflies.


They eat Dill too

Aug 09, 2017 by joanne

As my Dill plant is slowly being entirely consumed by ONE monarch caterpillar, I was hoping to find other things for it to munch on so I could watch it turn into a butterfly. They definitely do not "only" eat milkweed, as this is the second year for me to have caterpillars on dill plants. Previous year there were 8!


Fennel

Jul 29, 2017 by Teresa

I have them eating my fennel plant 2 yeaars in a row now.. As others have commented my fennel is almost gone and I have some pretty small caterpillars. What else can I provide for them to eat?


Monarch butterfly

Jul 20, 2017 by Leslie Verner

I saw your post regarding Monarch caterpillars eating only milkweed. As I type I have five caterpillars eating my Italian parsley plant down to the base of the plant. It's pretty much eaten and I'm not sure that they are finished growing.


May 16, 2017 by Patty

Cucumbers and pumpkins but must be fresh


4.6 5.0 23 23 For two years in a row I have found monarch caterpillars on ivy plants in my backyard. I have never found them on any other plant except this particular ivy. I raised it to produce Do Monarch Caterpillars Eat Anything Besides Milkweed