Does the presence of the biological control agent, Hypena opulenta (Lepidoptera: Erebidae) on swallow-worts deter monarch oviposition?
Invasive black and pale swallow-worts (Vincetoxicum nigrum (L.) Moench, and Vincetoxicum rossicum Kelopow), which are related to milkweeds, can act as ecological traps for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus L. (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)) as they lay eggs on them that fail to develop. A recently approved biological control agent against swallow-worts, Hypena opulenta Christoph, occupies the same feeding guild on swallow-worts as monarch larvae and could be perceived as a competitor to monarchs. We tested how the presence of this defoliating moth on swallow-worts may influence monarch host selection. In a two-year field experiment, we placed pale swallow-wort plants that were either infested with H. opulenta or noninfested as well as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.), into monarch habitats to assess oviposition rates. In the laboratory, monarchs were either given a choice or not between milkweeds and black swallow-worts with or without H. opulenta. While monarchs strongly preferred common milkweed in the field, up to 25% of the eggs we observed were laid on pale swallow-wort, without preference for swallow-wort with (10.7%) or without (14.3%) H. opulenta. In laboratory choice and no-choice tests, monarchs did not lay any eggs on black swallow-wort, likely because of the long-term laboratory rearing on common milkweeds. Our results confirm that pale swallow-wort may act as an oviposition sink to monarchs in Michigan as well. Since the biological control program is still in its infancy, the nature of interactions between monarchs and H. opulenta may change as the biocontrol agent becomes more widespread.