Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 905-932

First online:

Geographic and Temporal Variation of Cardenolide-Based Chemical Defenses of Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) in Northern Florida

  • Raymond MoranzAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Sweet Briar College
  • , Lincoln P. BrowerAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Florida

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The cardenolide-based chemical defenses of danaine butterflies vary macrogeographically. This study demonstrates that these defenses also vary both microgeographically and temporally. We sampled 280 queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) at 11 sites in northern Florida during the summer of 1993 and determined their cardenolide concentrations and thin-layer chromatography profiles. Queens captured in coastal salt marshes and xeric inland sites were low in cardenolide concentration, while those from hydric inland sites had much higher concentrations. Concentrations also varied temporally, especially at the coastal sites. Thin-layer chromatography analyses of wild-captured queens and those reared on local milkweeds indicated that microgeographic and temporal variation in the cardenolide chemistry of the butterflies is mediated by their host plants. The large differences in cardenolide concentrations among queen populations must result in strong differences in palatability spectra to vertebrate predators. This finding has major implications both for interspecific mimicry and for automimicry.

Danainae Danaus gilippus queen butterfly milkweed Asclepiadaceae cardenolide cardiac glycoside geographic variation temporal variation unpalatability palatability spectrum chemical defense host plant sequestration thin-layer chromatography fingerprinting mimicry automimicry Florida