How Many Leaves to Feed A Caterpillar

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How Many Leaves Does it Take to Feed a Caterpillar?

This question is asked often. The answer is, 'it depends'.
This unsatisfactory answer is frustrating yet totally true.

milkweed leaves and monarch caterpillars how many leaves does it take to feed a caterpillar

Several questions must be asked before anyone can begin to answer the question.

Which species of milkweed? How large are the leaves? How thick are the leaves?

Asking the question is like asking 'how many bags of chocolate candy does it take to serve six people for dessert?' It depends upon the size and weight of the bags as well as the type of chocolate candy.

The larvae rearing container in the photo above contains leaves of four species of milkweed. Although Giant Milkweed grows huge leaves, a freeze will kill the plant. Common and Poke milkweed grow large leaves but cannot live in the deep south without hard cold winters. Tropical milkweed will grow as a perennial in warm zones but often will not regrow after a hard freeze.

Beyond the species of milkweed, leaves on the same species of plant or even the same plant may vary greatly in size. Tropical milkweed leaves range from 3" to 6" or more with widths of 1" to over 2".

No matter how hard one may try, it is impossible to tell exactly how many leaves one caterpillar will eat.

One of the goals of Shady Oak Butterfly Farm is to grow full multi-branched tropical milkweed plants, so lush that one plant in a six-inch pot will be more than enough food for one caterpillar. The plants we grow will often feed two caterpillars to pupation.