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Experientia

, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 176–181 | Cite as

From model to mimic: Age-dependent unpalatability in monarch butterflies

  • A. Alonso-Mejía
  • L. P. Brower
Research Articles

Abstract

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are unpalatable to various vertebrate predators because their larvae sequester bitter and emetic cardiac glycosides (CGs) from milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.). Here we show that the concentration of the defensive CGs decrease as individual butterflies age, regardless of the CGs' initial amounts or specific chemical structures. Consequently, individual monarch butterflies can change from being unpalatable models to palatable mimics during their lifetime. Since monarchs breed continuously over the spring and summer in North America, freshly emerged adult butterflies may serve as noxious models for older individuals which become automimics as they age.

Key words

Cardiac glycoside loss Danaus plexippus aging breakdown of chemical defense three trophic level interactions automimicry Lepidoptera Asclepias 

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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Alonso-Mejía
    • 1
  • L. P. Brower
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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