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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 47 reviews
 by Marie
Milkweed Lady

I bought my caterpillars from the "Milkweed Lady" and have been following most of her advice from her very informative site. On her site she answers most if not all commonly asked questions. Like Monarch caterpillars only eat MILKWEED! They can't eat anything else. I believe that's why it's called a host plant? With combinations of advice from a few sites I raised 12 caterpillars but unfortunately 2 died. But 10 have lived to become cristalsis. Anyway I picked several leaves from a field of about 50 plants. When I had all 12 I would put about 8 leaves in my 10 gal fish tank. I put a piece of mesh over a cut out square in a piece of cardboard and put that on top. Any leaves I had leftover I would put in the refrigerator with a damp cloth a a ziploc bag. Milkweed lady suggests cleaning the leaves in a 10% bleach to 100% H2O ratio and soak for 2 minutes and then rinse rinse rinse. I use a rubbermaid 9×13 plastic container and a 1/2 tsp bleach and H2O. And then I rub them gently and rinse them  thoroughly. And then as she says to do I rub them dry not pat. The ones that come out of the fridge get wiped dry again before I put them in. I didn't pick anymore then what would last 3 days. And the leaves kept just like lettuce in the fridge. You have to replace the leaves when they curl or every time they look dry. And you have to clean the tank or cage every day. I suggest putting a plane cheap white paper towel and completely cover the bottom. And change that every day. Once everyone was in their Cristalsis I started putting a wet paper towel in there everyday sometimes twice a day. Because I read on several sites that you need to create humidity especially if you're raising them indoors with heat or air conditioning. Unfortunately I have also read that monarch caterpillars raiseed in  captivity don't migrate. I'm certainly hoping that this is false because my caterpillars are the ones that are supposed to migrate. Let's hope and pray they survive and go to Mexico.

 by Margaret L Peace
Monarch caterpillars

I have around 16 or so monarch caterpillars and several are on my lantana which is just behind the milkweed. Should I take the lantana leaf they are on and move them to the milkweed?

 by Michael

Asclepias is not a family as stated, it is a genus.

 by Cindy Ross
Why are my monarch caterpillars eating this plant?

I recently discovered monarch caterpillars in my garden and wonder what this plant is they are eating? It doesn’t look anything like a milkweed plant. Is there someone I can email pictures to so I can verify my finding?!

Thank you, Cindy KR

 by Kristy Bui

My experience raising monarch butterflies: Only pure milkweed that the caterpillars will survive thru all stages and emerge into butterflies. If you give it the seed pods, cuttings that kept in water, cucumbers; they eat those, jhook, turn into chrysalis then die. Or even die halfway into chrysalis.

You must have plenty of milkweed, cut a few leaves at a time to feed them.

I even collect eggs from the milkweed and keep them safe in a clear box. It seems spiders eat the eggs and wasps eat caterpillars.

Any questions, email me.

 by Shane Coombs
Grape leaves

I've been planting lots of milkweeds and wildflowers as of late. I tear them out from under my grapevines as the Monarch caterpillars will eat the grape leaves. About four years ago I let the milkweed grow under my grapevines and they would climb onto the grapevine and mostly strip the vine in several days. I relocated them to milkweed and they were happy, but me not so much. I now have lots of milkweed in my flower gardens and rip it out of the vineyard.

 by Judy
Do Monarch Butterflies eat anything besides milkwee

Before the opening of the shale boom in N. TX, the monarchs used to stop for upwards of a week in our hedge apple tree line. They would be so thick that you could walk into them and be surrounded by them while they feed on the hedge apples. We enjoyed them so much during migration.

After the fracking and gas production took over the area, they stopped coming to our land.

 by Marcia
Ecosystem Gardening

Once my monarch cats have devoured my milkweed, I've given them cucumber and butternut squash with some success. It's my last resort go-to replacement food.

 by Jerry Glasgow
Monarch caterpillar

My limited experience with Monarchs has shown me the caterpillars devour parsley and fennel. If I knew how to do it, I would send you pictures.

 by Frances PULLIN

My pot planter with parsley in it was stripped of all its leaves. Only stems were left. They were covered with monarch caterpillars.

 by Sandra Bucciero
Swallowtails (Not Monarchs) Eating Your Parsley

To anyone who claims that Monarchs are eating your parsley, fennel, dill, or carrots, you are mistaken. Those are Black Swallowtail caterpillars. They look similar to Monarch caterpillars (both are striped), but swallowtails have a slight green tint to them. I have milkweed and the swallowtail host plants in my garden, and I have raised Monarchs from egg to adult. I have never had a Monarch eating parsley but swallowtails love it, along with dill, rue, fennel, and Golden Alexander.

 by Dawn

I guess I can leave a question here. I live in New Orleans and the weather is unsteady this time of year. I have 25 large milkweed but unfortunately the caterpillars have devoured every leaf. My heart breaks for the 9 caterpillars i have. Any suggestions besides going buy more plants...

 by John
Monarch correction

I misspoke about the taxonomy of Honeyvine. It is not in the milkweed GENUS Asclepias, but in the Genus Cynanchum. Monarch caterpillars are not aware of this and eat it anyway!

 by John
Monarchs on Honeyvine

Here in the St.Louis area, Monarch caterpillars are regularly found feeding on what is commonly called Honeyvine milkweed, I am in my second year of raising ones found in my garden on this plant. Despite its name, Honeyvine is not actually in the milkweed family (Asclepias), it is in the Apocynacea family. It looks similar to and often grows in conjunction with bindweed, so the post about caterpillars on bindweed may have actually been Honeyvine.

 by Jane Aldieri

Monarch Caterapillars pick all manner of locations for their transformation into a chrysalis. I had one attach right to a cherry tomato ? last year, but it had been growing and eating nearby milkweed. I be had chrysalis hanging on the rims of pots, the wooden shingles on my house, my railings, the door knocker etc ... they sometimes walk a ways to choose their perfect spot.

 by Kathy Peavy

For the last two years I have had multiple Monarchs eat my Parsley leaves down to nubs. When I inquired I was told they only eat milkweed. Well not at this Florida household.

 by mary
monarch alternative food

i have found that monarch caterpillars also eat what we in illinois call bindweed. it is invasive, but if you have a spot where you can let it grow it blooms with tiny white flowers that smell strongly of vanilla. the resulting seed pods look like milkweed pods. i have raised three generations of monarchs since i broke my hip. watching the babies change is more gratifying than planting annuals.

 by GardenHubs

Hi buddy,

The post you shared really awesome! Great work, thanks for sharing your amazing blog.

 by Sandy
Monarch Caterpillar Fennel

I just returned from the herb farm down road from me. Two out of 6 fennel plants had beautiful green monarch caterpillars munching away. I bought the plant for the caterpillar :o) and I don't care if he eats all of it. There are 3 bulbs in the pot I have sweet memories of swarms of monarchs, and black and yellow swallowtail butterflies.

 by Lynsey
Vining milk weed variety

I stumbled across this article convinced that I was going to disprove the need for milkweed as I have been able to feed and hatch monarchs that I find attached to the vining weeds as I am weeding my flower bed. I think a lot of people are familiar with the standard variety of milkweed, not the different subspecies. Instead of getting everyone to plant milkweed, I feel like it may be more obtainable to educate gardeners of the different milkweeds that can be beneficial and how to maintain them in a controlled way. I would like to add a trellis to my garden to give my weeds a place of their own. Thank you for the information!

 by niki
monarch caterpillar eating milkweed seedling

wow, the caterpillar came from nowhere i have 3 seedlings. he has eaten all of the leaves on one 6 inch seedling. i'm afraid he will kill all of the seedlings. what do you suggest. have any idea how many days they will feed? are there other leaves that i can spread around my milkweed seedlings to save them so they can grow and be available for more caterpillars.

 by Panayiota Ryall
African Monarch

I have photos of an African Monarch caterpillar eating my star-flower cactus. The egg must have been laid on it. It has now turned into a beautiful green chrysalis with a gold trim and gold dots.

 by Nate

Pumpkin seems caterpillars love it

 by Valera Vega


 by Garrett Smith
Monarch caterpillars eat ivy

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.

 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.


 by Corinne

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

 by Karen Schur
Monarch caterpillars

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.

 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 ?”

 by Kenneth Hakanson
monarch survival

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.

 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.

 by Joanne silva
Monarch. Butterflies eating tomato. Plants

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.

 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.

 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.

 by Rebecca Reynolds
Question on Monarch

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&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic&notif_id=1537018286432339

 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.

 by Bonnnie Dalzell
Do Monarch Caterpillars Eat Anything Besides Milkweed

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,

 by Dee Dee
Swallowtail Cats Eating Parsley

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.

 by Amber
Is Parsely a type of milkweed?

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!


Gonzales, La

 by Rich Franco
Monarchs caterpillar food!


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.....

 by Christina Porter
Swallowtail Caterpillar

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.

 by Julie Free Free Heart
monarch caterpillar food

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

 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.

 by joanne
They eat Dill too

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!

 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?

 by Leslie Verner
Monarch butterfly

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.

 by Patty

Cucumbers and pumpkins but must be fresh