Divergent impacts of the neonicotinoid insecticide, clothianidin, on flight performance metrics in two species of migratory butterflies

Staci Cibotti, Phineas J. Saum, Andrew James Myrick, Rudolf J. Schilder, Jared Gregory Ali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-distance flight is crucial for the survival of migratory insects, and disruptions to their flight capacity can have significant consequences for conservation. In this study, we examined how a widely used insecticide, clothianidin (class: neonicotinoid), impacted the flight performance of two species of migratory butterflies, monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and painted ladies (Vanessa cardui). To do this, we quantified the free-flight energetics and tethered-flight velocity and distance of the two species using flow-through respirometry and flight mill assays. Our findings show differential effects of the pesticide on the two species. For painted ladies, we found that clothianidin exposure reduced average free-flight metabolic rates, but did not affect either average velocity or total distance during tethered flight. Other studies have linked low flight metabolic rates with reduced dispersal capacity, indicating that clothianidin exposure may hinder painted lady flight performance in the wild. Conversely, for monarchs, we saw no significant effect of clothianidin exposure on average free-flight metabolic rates but did observe increases in the average velocity, and for large individuals, total distance achieved by clothianidin-exposed monarchs in tethered flight. This suggests a potential stimulatory response of monarchs to low-dose exposures to clothianidin. These findings indicate that clothianidin exposure has the potential to influence the flight performance of butterflies, but that not all species are impacted in the same way. This highlights the need to be thoughtful when selecting performance assays, as different assays can evaluate fundamentally distinct aspects of physiology, and as such may yield divergent results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbercoae002
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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