Are Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars Carnivorous? Do They Eat Each Other?

Are Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars Carnivorous?

As part of our homeschooling journey, we are raising monarch butterfly caterpillars in our home. Now, initially, this started outdoors. We have been adding plants to our butterfly garden and found some common milkweed at a local native plant nursery. It didn’t take long for monarch butterflies to find these plants, lay eggs and for our first caterpillar to emerge. Every morning, before breakfast, my kids and I would go outside to check on “stripes,” the resident monarch caterpillar. Until one day…it disappeared. After that we moved a few indoors to keep them safe from whatever is responsible for Stripes’s disappearance.

A few things about their behaviour has shocked us and I want to share it with you.

monarch butterflies carnivorous do monarch butterfly caterpillars eat each other

What do Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars eat? 

Most people will tell you…milkweed! However, not any milkweed will do. Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat Common Milkweed and this is where you can find eggs and caterpillars of all stages. Up until we actually started to raise caterpillars indoors I would have answered exactly the same way…however, to my surprise, monarch butterfly caterpillars are carnivorous.

You see, the two caterpillars in this photo were placed on a leaf while I was changing out the milkweed. I provide the critters with fresh leaves to make sure they’re well fed and don’t go without a bite to eat. Monarch butterfly caterpillars have a healthy appetite…apparently for more than milkweed.

To my shock, surprise, sadness and disgust…the larger caterpillar here ate the smaller one as I was refreshing the leaves in the jar. Fast, it ate it very quickly and without haste.

I hit google hard

This can’t be. Something must be horribly wrong! However, to my surprise, I read article after article stating that monarch butterfly caterpillars¬†do eat each other. Some articles said that it could be due to food scarcity. Not the case here. Others said that it could be due to aggressiveness on one insect’s part. Possibly the case here. Many articles said that the behavior was not well documented and occurred rarely.

I am here to tell you that with my own two eyes I saw this larger Monarch butterfly caterpillar eat the smaller one for no known reason. Sad, nauseating and inexplicable. There you have it. Monarch butterfly caterpillars are carnivorous and they do eat each other for reasons unknown.

What can you do? 

My only solution would be to keep monarch butterfly caterpillars separated and in their own seclusions. Creating small habitats indoors allows us to examine behaviour closely…both the positive and negative. It’s all a learning experience!

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