Life is Sweet for Monarchs
Insects Receive Nectar as Reward for Pollination

Did you know?

  • Adult monarch butterflies are nectarivores; they feed on sugar-rich nectar of flowers. (Monarch larvae are herbivores; they feed on the leaves of the milkweed plants.)
  • Flowers produce nectar to attract pollinators; nectar is a 'reward' for pollination.
  • Nectar is very sweet. Research shows bees prefer nectar with a sugar concentration in the 30-50% range. For comparison, Coke is only 10% sugar!
  • The amount of nectar in flowers varies greatly — and it changes with the seasons, and even with the time of day. Many flowers only produce nectar during certain hours of the day!
  • The nectar of spring flowers is usually much more concentrated than that of fall flowers. (Biologists think flowers may have evolved this higher sugar concentration of spring flowers as a strategy to attract pollinators. With the abundance of flowers in the spring, there is a shortage of pollinators. Later in the season, flowers can "get away" with watered-down nectar because pollinators are more abundant.)

Try This!

  1. Watch a monarch (or other butterfly) carefully while it visits a flower. Can you observe the butterfly lowering its proboscis into the flower?
  2. Can you see any pollen on the butterfly? (Pollen usually looks like powder, and is often colorful.) Based on any pollen you see, do you think the butterfly is visiting different species of flowers?
  3. After the butterfly leaves the flower, go back to investigate. What is the shape of the flower? What color is it? If it's a dandelion or similar "weed," pick the flower and dissect it. Using a hand lens, look carefully at the anatomy of the flower, and sketch what you see. Can you find where the nectar is stored? The pollen?
  4. As the season progresses, keep a record of the different flowers that are available to monarchs and other pollinating insects. Watch for pollen on the insects' bodies. How many different pollinators do you think you can identify in your own backyard between now and the first fall frost?

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