Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 1459–1470 | Cite as

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids in an overwintering population of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in California

  • M. E. Stelljes
  • J. N. Seiber


California overwintering monarch butterflies contain both pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) and theirN-oxides. Analysis of 76 individual monarchs by TLC, HPLC, GLC, and GC-MS has shown the presence of three types of PAs, the saturated diester sarracine, the saturated monoester 7-angelylplatynecine, and the unsaturated dialcohol retronecine. Monarchs arriving at the overwintering site in Santa Cruz, California, showed a wide variation in both the type and amount of PA present. Those sampled after a PA-containing plant (Senecio mikanioides) had bloomed at the site showed an altered PA profile. While the plant was found to contain sarracine and 7-angelylplatynecine, which are nontoxic to mammals, the monarchs showed an increase in retronecine levels, a toxic PA, after the plant bloom. Apparently monarchs utilize PA-containing plants both en route to their overwintering site and at the site, and potentially alter those PAs to forms toxic to mammals.

Key Words

Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus Lepidoptera Danaidae pyrrolizidine alkaloids sarracine 7-angelylplatynecine retronecine Senecio mikanioides overwintering defense 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. E. Stelljes
    • 1
  • J. N. Seiber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ToxicologyUniversity of California-DavisDavis

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