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Butterflies are flighty creatures. They flit around, not seeming to give much thought to where they're going or how they will get there. You may know some people who act like that.

But biologists have found that monarch butterflies maybe aren't as empty-headed as they look. They've discovered that some monarchs appear to use medicinal plants to treat their babies for disease.

Some species of milkweed, which baby butterflies, called larva, like to eat, can reduce parasite infection. Parasites are creatures that live off of other plants or animals.

Scientists also believe that some female butterflies that have been infected with parasites prefer to lay their eggs on plants that will make their offspring less sick. So maybe butterfly moms are just like human mothers, able to give their babies medicine. That's a wild idea for a bug like a butterfly.

If a butterfly is capable of medicating, there must be other animals doing the same thing. Maybe deer eat wild mint when they have an upset stomach. Maybe moose munch willows when they have a headache.

And if butterflies can find medications to treat problems in the wild, there could be medicinal value to some plants that we humans haven't yet discovered. Maybe animals and insects can teach us a thing or two.

Monarch butterflies are unusual. They annually fly from states as far north as Montana all the way south to Califor-nia and Mexico to spend the winter. They're a pretty insect, with orange, black and white on their wings. The bright colors warn birds that the butterfly may be poisonous.

Before they become butterflies, the Monarch are caterpillars. The caterpillars like to eat milkweed plants, including some species that contain chemicals that make them toxic to predators even as adult butterflies.

- Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor


Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.