Estimating perceptual range of female monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) to potted vegetative common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and blooming nectar resources.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Environmental Entomology (2021)


common milkweed, Danaus plexippus, habitat proximity, monarch butterflies


Habitat loss in the summer breeding range contributes to eastern North American monarch (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) population decline. Habitat restoration efforts include increasing native prairie plants for adult forage and milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for oviposition and larval development. As the monarch is a vagile species, habitat establishment at a grain that matches the monarch perceptual range will facilitate efficient movement, decrease fitness costs of dispersal, and increase oviposition. We released 188 experimental monarch females 5, 25, 50, and 75 m downwind from potted milkweed and blooming forbs in 4–32 ha sod fields. Perceptual range was estimated from monarchs that flew towards and landed on the milkweed and forbs. Flight patterns of 49 non-experimental monarchs that landed on the resources were also observed. In our experimental, resource-devoid setting, wind-facilitated movement occurred most frequently. Monarchs performed direct displacement as evidenced by shallow turn angles and similarity of Euclidian and total distances traveled. We hypothesize similar monarch flight behavior when traveling over other resource-devoid areas, such as crop fields. Although the majority of experimental monarchs flew downwind, eight experimental and 49 non-experimental monarchs were observed flying upwind toward, and landing on, the potted resources from distances ranging from 3 to 125 m (mean = 30.98 m, median = 25 m, mode = 25 m). A conservative estimate of the perceptual range is 125 m, as longer distances cannot be precluded; however, the majority of observations were ≤50 m. Our findings suggest establishing habitat patches ~ 50 m apart would create functional connectivity across fragmented agricultural landscapes.