Journaling Question
Dr. Lincoln Brower Comments

The monarch "changes its ecological niche entirely when it transforms from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly," says Dr. Brower. "They are two ecologically different organisms, as distinct as a field mouse and a hummingbird."

  • Q. Define the term 'niche.'
  • A. In the science of ecology, the word "niche" is defined as: "The role an organism plays in a community. How it interacts with the environment and other organisms." More simply put, an organism's habitat is its home, and its niche is its job.

  • Q. Then describe how a field mouse is like a monarch caterpillar, and a hummingbird is like an adult monarch.
  • A. As a caterpillar, the monarch is a relatively sedentary, herbaceous, leaf-eating machine that's storing energy and building up biomass. As an adult it's a highly mobile, nectivorous, flower-orienting organism. The ecological function of the adult butterfly is to disperse, flying around and laying eggs (or in the case of males, mating with females who do). Just think: In the spring a female returning from Mexico may spread her eggs across 1,000 miles! In contrast, a caterpillar may spend its entire time in the space of a few meters, interacting only with its immediate surroundings.