The Toxic Butterfly

Butterflies have always been a sight for sore eyes and have never harmed humans as we do. Here, the spotlight is going to be on the orange monarch butterflies.

Orange monarchs are seen commonly around us every day with the beautiful colour of orange, outlined patterns of black and wings bordered with white dots. They are said to be as poisonous and attractive as they are. Furthermore, the vibrant hues of these butterflies are their defensive trait; why is that? Few may know, some may not.

The orange monarch butterfly feeds on the milkweed, a poisonous plant that can kill a human or any big animal, but why not the monarchs? The researchers studied those worms, birds and wasps feeding on the orange butterflies that do not get poisoned. This phenomenon created great curiosity among the researchers who started working on this. The findings revealed that the monarchs have a specific part in their cells known as the sodium-potassium pump. Now the toxins present in the milkweed target this pump and cause various mutations or changes in the DNA of the butterfly.

Surprisingly, animals such as the mouse and birds feeding on the butterfly also go through the mutation. Going slightly out of the topic – we give one-third of the energy from our food to the sodium-potassium pump, and when most animals consume the milkweeds, the pump technically stops working. 

Another notable finding is that the orange monarchs stuff all the milkweed toxins into them upon feeding and use it as a defence. While digging more, the researchers made fruit fly a study model which also became resistant to milkweeds. Still, there are many questions left unanswered about the complicated mechanisms behind this study.

Time may be short to uncover the cellular mysteries of butterflies. According to scientific experts, monarch numbers have decreased substantially, from around 500 million in the early 1990s to around 100 million today.

Growing milkweeds is illegal in a few countries due to their poisonous abilities. Milkweed elimination is a critical factor of their depopulation. It is the only site where monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. Increased use of herbicides, mowing beside highways and ditches has reduced the amount of milkweeds available. Scientists have reasoned that climate change is harming the Mexican forests where they migrate every winter to breed, and as the butterfly flock shrinks, they become easy victims for birds and mice.


University of California – Riverside. (2021, November 22). How to eat a poison butterfly: Monarch predators evolved rare cellular mutations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2021 from

Hello, everyone! If you liked this Article, do check out the related posts. Comment and like if you would like to read more similar works from the author. And don’t forget to share this on your social media channels.

I am Naushin. Completed Masters in Biotechnology and got into the field of science communication. I have been working as an editorial assistant for the past two years. I created a page in Instagram where I communicate about the latest discoveries in a simplified version. My long term goal is to become a scientist and an entrepreneur.

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Editors: Namita

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