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Known for their bright colors and epic annual migration from the United States and Canada to Mexico, monarch butterflies are beautiful but complicated creatures of nature. In his new book, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Anurag Agrawal presents a detailed investigation into the complex co-evolution occurring between the monarch and the incredibly toxic milkweed.

The inextricable and intimate relationship between the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant has been like an arms race over the millennia. Each spring, the monarch life cycle begins when it deposits eggs on the leaves. Even though the plants do all they can to poison the predators, the larvae appear to feed exclusively on them. The milky sap poisons contained in leaves and stems have not only shaped monarch-milkweed interactions but have been culturally important for centuries.

In an April 2017 Chats in the Stacks book talk at Mann Library, Agrawal discussed his recent scientific discoveries that reveal a battle of exploitation and defense between these two fascinating species. He also reviewed some of the current thinking as regarding the recent decline in monarch populations, the influence of habitat destruction, and his own theories as to why their numbers are plummeting.