Monarch butterflies smell with their antennae and taste with their legs and feet. These lovely creatures are surprisingly strong, traveling over three thousand miles to stay warm in the winter.
Monarchs eat nothing but nectar from flowers most of the time, but how long can a monarch butterfly live without food?
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How Long Can A Monarch Butterfly Live Without Food
When Monarch butterflies travel south to Mexico for the winter, they will live up to 5 months without eating. Monarchs may find a rare meal during the colder months, but most do not eat at all since their food source, which are flowers, isn’t growing. When Spring comes, they will eat again and lay eggs for several weeks at the end of their life cycle.
Although an adult monarch can go for months without food. However, it has to be at the right stage in its life to survive the experience.
Every year as they migrate, some monarchs fail to make the journey. Those blown off course may die, but so do the butterflies that cannot find sufficient food to survive their southerly migration.
It takes a surprising amount of nectar to sustain these tiny beauties. Of course, you’d eat a lot, too, if you had to flap your ‘wings’ five to twelve times per second to travel a hundred miles per day.
Also, contrary to popular belief, they can eat from fruits and flowers other than the famously toxic milkweed.
How Long Can A Monarch Butterfly Go Without Eating
A monarch butterfly can overwinter for about three months without eating after it migrates. However, it needs to eat during its pre-flight life stage to build up energy for the 3,000-mile flight south.
When they first emerge, most monarch butterflies do not feed at all on the first day.
If you are raising monarchs in captivity, they may not eat the second day either, or very little. Unless the temperature is above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, they will conserve their energy. After that, the butterflies need daily feeding.
Here are the safe foods to give them.
- Fresh Fruits: You’ll need to cut these open and chose extra moist varieties like watermelon and grapes.
- Juicy Juice: This brand, in particular, offers a good blend of what growing monarchs need to stay hydrated and absorb nutrition.
- Monarch Nectar: There is pre-formulated monarch food available online.
- Gatorade: Make sure this is the regular sugar-packed variety and not a sugar-free variation.
- Honey Water: Use one part of honey for every nine parts of water to give the new monarchs a nectar-like drink.
How Long Can Monarch Caterpillars Go Without Food
Monarch caterpillars are ravenous eaters. They can survive up to 24 hours without food without negative effects. Beyond that, they would likely begin to starve and die quickly.
Notably, newly hatched monarch caterpillars often eat their own eggshells. Doubtless, this helps them regain energy from the trying process of hatching and allows them to get moving so they can begin to eat and grow.
The once-tiny insect will grow to an astounding 2,000 times the original size in only 9 to 14 days.
Monarch caterpillars require milkweed plants to survive. In fact, they can strip a one-gallon milkweed of its leaves completely.
Typically, these tiny insects will consume between a 175 and 200 milkweed leaves before turning into a chrysalis.
The glycosides in milkweed are toxic to most species. However, for these unique caterpillars, they are a survival mechanism.
They store the glycosides in their body, making the Caterpillar, and later the butterfly becomes toxic to predators.
The bright golden yellow-orange coloration of the butterfly and the yellow stripes on the Caterpillar actually warn other creatures.
Brightly colored species are often indicating to others that they are inedible. Moreover, some species mimic this trick to help hide those who would eat them by looking like toxic insects or animals.
The Viceroy butterfly is the only species that mimics the monarch.
Do Monarch Butterflies Need Food
Monarch butterflies don’t eat food as you might recognize it. They cannot chew any solids. Instead, these colorful creatures have a specially adapted face with a proboscis that they dip into flowers for nectar.
Monarch adults feed on many species of flowers, and they can even sip the juice from fruits when they are available.
A monarchs’ proboscis stays curled into a spiral while they are dying. However, once they reach a tube-shaped flower full of nectar, they unfurl their unique snouts using hydrostatic pressure.
Intriguingly, when they are forming in the chrysalis, the proboscis is formed in two halves. Upon emerging, they ‘zip’ or fit these two pieces into one long tube, which may explain why they don’t eat the first day as this grows together.
How Often Does A Monarch Butterfly Need To Eat
Monarch butterflies need to eat at least once per day. However, they only eat this much during the first part of their butterfly lifecycle.
Since they only mate and lay eggs where milkweed is present, the caterpillars have little trouble finding food, leading to the myth that the already toxic adults will only eat these flowers.
How Do Monarch Butterflies Survive Without Food
Monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico around November and will stay until March when the breeding season ends.
Often without a single snack for five months. How do they do it? The answer is very similar to a bear hibernating. Monarchs store up lots of food energy in their bodies before they head south.
The fatter a monarch’s abdomen when it arrives in Mexico, the more likely the butterfly will survive the winter and lay or fertilize lots of eggs.
A female can lay up to a thousand eggs at the end of the long winter, though most likely only lay half that many.
Since they lay all their eggs on milkweed, the newly hatched caterpillars have the best chance of survival that their parents can give them.
Helpful Tips To Know About How Long A Monarch Butterfly Can Live Without Food
Monarch butterflies are some of the most incredible and resilient creatures on earth. Few other species travel so far in their lives.
Here are more helpful tips to know about how long a monarch butterfly can live without food.
- If you care for freshly emerged monarch butterflies at home, please do not feed them red Gatorade, sugar water, or cut flowers. The Gatorade stains them, the sugar water sticks to their proboscis, and cut flowers often don’t retain nectar for more than a day.
- You can plant a butterfly garden to help the monarchs and other species survive. I recommend getting the Monarch Butterfly Attracting Milkweed Mix Seed Packs.
- SAVE THE BUTTERFLIES: The Monarch Butterfly is on the brink of extinction, partially due to the lack of Milkweeds plant—the only food monarch caterpillars eat. Butterfly needs our help! Plant native milkweed flowers and help create natural monarch habitats along their migration routes!
- ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY GIFT OR FAVOR: Our packet has a natural kraft-look and a simple etched design of a butterfly enjoying milkweed plants. Use it as a favor at an event or as a conscientious promotion for your business!
- MILKWEED WILD FLOWER MIX CONTENTS: 55% Asclepias Tuberosa (Butterfly), 35% Asclepias Speciosa (Showy), 10% Asclepias Syriaca (Common). Grow a beautiful and paradise-like wildflower garden using our seed packets for planting.
- PLANTING DIRECTIONS: You can start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in your area or direct sow after frost danger is past. The seed in this packet has been presoaked so that it can direct sow in the fall where winter will stratify it for spring blooms. If you plan to plant in the spring we recommend soaking for 6 hours before hand for an extra boost. Keep the soil damp until seedlings emerge and then water as necessary. Seedlings should emerge in 10 days to 3 weeks. Full sun is best.
- GROW GOOD THINGS: At Bentley Seeds, we pride ourselves on providing consistent and high-quality flower seeds. Bentley Seed Co. offers multiple packet sizes, paper choices, and many seed varieties to accommodate any event. All of our favor packets comply with USDA and all 50 States Dept. of Agriculture guidelines.
Last update on 2023-12-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- Milkweed is considered an invasive species in many areas. Since it can harm cattle and other livestock who ingest it, farmers often remove all the milkweed, which has led to serious food shortage problems for the lovely Monarch butterflies.
- Climate change and rising CO2 levels in North America may be contributing to the Monarchs extinction. The atmospheric changes are theorized to affect the milkweed making it too toxic even for Monarchs to eat.
Monarch butterflies live well-traveled and complex lives, surprisingly, but they need a lot of food to do so. Caterpillars will eat hundreds of leaves and grow to two thousand times their original size in two weeks.
Meanwhile, adult butterflies must eat daily for six months to save up enough energy to spend a whole month flying south, where they’ll spend the winter without food.
When spring finally comes, the females will lay anywhere from four hundred to a thousand eggs over the course of several days.