Butterfly food is complex

Ever since Danica and I helped a couple of Monarchs emerge from cocoons, we have been keen on nourishing the species. They feed on milkweed, we were told, so we started some in the backyard, from seeds. They took a while to get established and didn’t even flower until this year.

This is the flower on plain old regular milkweed. Can you see the ants?

I didn’t even know milkweed flowered, but Danica pointed out the buds. I took the picture of one blooming in someone’s yard. Typically, I didn’t see the ants until I opened the photo. Ants? Is that a good thing, or bad? Ants benefit peonies. How about milkweed?

The ants are interested in aphids, it turns out. They don’t kill them, they actually protect the aphids from other predators, because ants like the sweet syrup aphids make. So, ants … bad, in this case, because they help aphids.

Our fancy ones aren’t flowering yet, so I snapped these in another yard. No ants on this one.

Cheryl (thank you!) gave us another variety of milkweed that she bought at a nursery. Prettier flowers and more petite leaves. I wonder if they are aphid resistant. We have both kinds.

Milkweed defends itself from enemies by being full of toxins. Monarch butterflies have evolved to be able to absorb the poisons, incorporating them into their bodies. It makes Monarchs taste bitter and gives predators a bellyache. The Monarch’s beautiful colouring is a memorable warning … “Don’t eat us! Remember the last time?”

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