Variation in Cardiac Glycoside Content of Monarch Butterflies from Natural Populations in Eastern North America

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Science  04 Aug 1972:
Vol. 177, Issue 4047, pp. 426-429
DOI: 10.1126/science.177.4047.426


A new spectrophotometric assay has been used to determine the gross concentration of cardiac glycoside in individual monarch butterflies. Adults sampled during the fall migration in four areas of eastern North America exhibited a wide variation in cardiac glycoside concentration. The correlation between spectrophotometrically measured concentrations and emetic dose determinations supports the existence of a broad palatability spectrum in wild monarch butterflies. The cardiac gylcoside concentration is greater in females than in males and is independent of the dry weight of the butterflies; contrary to prediction, both the concentration mean and variance decrease southward. The defensive advantage of incorporating cardiac glycosides may be balanced by detrimental effects on individual viability.

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