Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 1157–1170 | Cite as

Cardenolide connection between overwintering monarch butterflies from Mexico and their larval food plant,Asclepias syriaca

  • J. N. Seiber
  • L. P. Brower
  • S. M. Lee
  • M. M. McChesney
  • H. T. A. Cheung
  • C. J. Nelson
  • T. R. Watson


The majority (85%) of 394 monarch butterflies sampled from overwintering sites in Mexico contain the same epoxy cardenolide glycosides, including most conspicuously a novel polar glycoside with a single genin-sugar bridge (aspecioside), as occur in the milkweedsAsclepias speciosa andA. syriaca. This cardenolide commonality was established by isolating aspecioside and syriobioside from the wings of overwintering monarchs and the two plant species, and comparing Chromatographie and NMR spectrometric characteristics of the isolates. When combined with the migratory pattern of monarchs and the distribution of these two milkweed species, this chemical evidence lends strong support to the hypothesis thatA. syriaca is the major late summer food plant of monarchs in eastern North America. This finding may be of ecological importance, forA. syriaca contributes less cardenolide and cardenolides of lower emetic potency to monarchs than most milkweeds studied to date.

Key words

Danaus plexippus monarch butterflies Lepidoptera Danaidae Asclepiadaceae milkweeds Asclepias syriaca Asclepias speciosa ecological chemistry chemical defense cardenolides aspecioside desglucosyrioside syriobioside overwintering 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. N. Seiber
    • 1
  • L. P. Brower
    • 2
  • S. M. Lee
    • 1
  • M. M. McChesney
    • 1
  • H. T. A. Cheung
    • 3
  • C. J. Nelson
    • 3
  • T. R. Watson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ToxicologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavis
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesville
  3. 3.Department of PharmacyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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