Skipping meals may affect butterfly wing size, coloration

April 2, 2014
This is a female monarch. Credit: Pat Davis

High food stress may impact wing size and coloration—both indicators of migratory success—in monarch butterflies, according to results published April 2, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Haley Johnson from University of Jamestown and colleagues.

Monarch butterflies migrate long distances according to the seasons every year. Because this requires so much energy, they rely on access to food during early stages of growth so that they can develop the necessary characteristics to safely complete the trek, including appropriate wing shape and coloration. To better understand the effects of food on growth, the authors of this study deprived late-stage larvae of milkweed and later measured the effect on the adults' wing size and coloration. The three test groups were those with no food restriction, those with 24-hour food restriction (low-stress), or those with 48-hour restriction (high stress). After metamorphosis, scientists imaged and analyzed the forewing length, width, and surface area, as well as the brightness of the orange wing pigment and the intensity of black pigment.

Although the effects on wing color and shape were unclear, the authors found that two days of larval may have caused a small but clear reduction in adult wing size, by approximately 2%. Limited access to milkweed stunts monarch wings, which could ultimately result in lower migration success. The authors also found that the quality of wing pigmentation in was partly influenced by larval food supply, although the effects were ambiguous and require further study. Similarly, the effect on wing shape was also not easily-interpretable.

Co-author Andy Davis added, "There is increasing scientific and public concern over the loss of milkweeds throughout the range of monarchs in North America. Our study provides some answers to what can happen when monarch caterpillars run low on food"

Explore further: Study finds that long-distance migration shapes butterfly wings

More information: Johnson H, Solensky MJ, Satterfield DA, Davis AK (2014) Does Skipping a Meal Matter to a Butterfly's Appearance? Effects of Larval Food Stress on Wing Morphology and Color in Monarch Butterflies. PLoS ONE 9(4): e93492. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093492

Related Stories

Mexico, US, Canada to work on Monarch butterflies

February 20, 2014

Mexico, the United States and Canada have agreed to form a working group on the conservation of Monarch butterflies, whose numbers fell to record lows this year at their wintering grounds in central Mexico.

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Museum of Natural Science Curator of Mammals Jake Esselstyn at Louisiana State University and his international collaborators have discovered a new genus and species on a remote, mountainous island in Indonesia. This new ...

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...

Ancestors of land plants were wired to make the leap to shore

October 5, 2015

When the algal ancestor of modern land plants first succeeded in making the transition from aquatic environments to an inhospitable shore 450 million years ago, it changed the world by dramatically altering climate and setting ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.