Minnesota State Butterfly: Monarch
Is there a more recognizable caterpillar—or butterfly, for that matter—than the monarch? Monarch caterpillars survive solely on milkweed, though it doesn’t limit them to the aptly named Common Milkweed. While they prefer some species over others, they accept any species of Asclepias as food. Minnesota has over a dozen native species of milkweed (though several are very rare), ranging in color from white to green to magenta to brilliant orange. Asclepias tuberosa, the bright orange Butterflyweed, thrives in poor soil, preferring sand and sun and dry slopes. Though not deadly unless consumed in a huge quantity (an unlikely prospect, given the bitterness of the plant), all milkweeds contain similar toxins to the notoriously deadly plants foxglove and oleander. Buildup of toxins in the caterpillar—which are carried over to the butterfly—help reduce predation. Birds that have spent an hour vomiting after swallowing a monarch typically leave the butterflies and caterpillars alone forever afterward.