Monarch Caterpillar food at Raccoon Creek State Park

Monarch caterpillar photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park

With the volume of discussion  about the limited numbers of Monarch butterflies this year in the northeast and beyond, we’re sharing Monarch images and taking queries on the butterfly and its caterpillar life cycle.

Some years ago, working with Carnegie Mellon University, I produced a multimedia presentation about butterflies. Included in it was an interview with a professor emeritus of Chemistry. I included a question asking him, “What are the actual sugars in the nectar of wildflowers?” To my surprise, he said he didn’t know the answer to that question. That’s one of several thoughts I had that brought me to make this post on a Monarch caterpillar.

This Monarch butterfly caterpillar has already secreted the substance that will enable it to continue pupating.  The white material will hold the pupating larva fast to the stem that supports it. You better believe that  it’s critical that the binding materials does not fail.

What is the chemistry of that material? How does the caterpillar produce it? What is it formed from? Have there been any commercial applications that employ that material and process?


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