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What Do Monarch Caterpillars Eat

Many insects use camouflage, or colors that blend in with natural surroundings, for protection. However, monarch caterpillars wear bright yellow, white and black bands that make their bodies stand out. A monarch caterpillar's diet includes a plant that makes their bodies distasteful to predators. Believe it or not, the flashy colors on a monarch caterpillar actually remind predators to not eat the caterpillar. What do monarch caterpillars eat?
Monarch caterpillars are born under the leaves of milkweed plants, and literally eat themselves out of house and home. When a monarch caterpillar has finished eating one leaf, it just moves on to the next. While milkweed is the only plant a monarch caterpillar will eat, there are several varieties of the plant. These include common milkweed, swamp milkweed and showy milkweed. In tropical climates, milkweed vine is available.
Milkweed has a natural chemical in it called an alkaloid. When a monarch caterpillar ingests, or eats this chemical, their bodies become bitter in taste. Predators to the monarch caterpillar, especially birds, do not enjoy the bitter taste of this poisonous chemical. Once a bird has eaten a monarch caterpillar, it will not do it again. Birds recognize the colorful bands of the monarch caterpillar and remember not to eat this insect.
A monarch caterpillar lives in its caterpillar form for only about two weeks. During this time, the goal of the monarch caterpillar is to eat and grow, in preparation for the next stage of its life. After two weeks time, the monarch caterpillar forms a cocoon. The caterpillar stays in this cocoon until its body transforms into a colorful butterfly.