University of Minnesota

A Monarch’s Memory

Humboldt Jr. High School
St. Paul, MN


We set out to test whether monarchs have a memory. After originally feeding them purple honey water, we gave them a choice of red or purple honey water. We found that they did not seem to have a preference, implying that their memory is either nonexistent or very short. We are unsure of the accuracy of our results because we only tested 8 butterflies. A larger sample size may give better results.


Do monarch butterflies prefer red honey water over light purple honey water?


I think they will go to the purple honey water.


I think this because this is the color of the flower they have been feeding from.


  • petri dish
  • monarchs
  • food coloring
  • honey water
  • toothpick
  • graduated cylinder

Independent Variable

The color of the honey water

Dependent Variable

Which color of honey water the butterfly chooses


The size of the dishes, amount of honey water, and kind of butterfly (monarch)


  1. Get butterflies.
  2. Color honey water with food coloring.
    • put 50 ml of honey water in graduated cylinder
    • add food coloring to honey water in drops until reach desired color
  3. Put 5 ml of colored honey water in petri dish (1 petri dish for each color)
  4. Fill an extra petri dish with clear honey water
  5. Put butterfly in clear honey water for a minute
  6. Immediately place butterfly on the edge of both petri dishes
  7. Watch the butterfly carefully
  8. Record the color it chooses, how long it ate, and any other observations
  9. Repeat experiment with another butterfly


We tested 8 monarchs. Four of them were males and 4 were females. Two males and 1 female chose purple. Three females and 1 male chose red. One male would only eat the clear honey water.

(Photo: Humboldt Jr. High School)


I think our results told us that the monarchs may not have a memory like we thought. I think our results are interesting because for some reason it does not seem right that they do not have a memory. I do not think our results are right. I think that we would need to test more than 8 butterflies to get an accurate answer.

I think that our results may have been messed up because the color we used for purple was a lot darker than the color that they had been feeding on. Another thing that may have messed it up was that one of the petri dishes was slightly higher than the other. If I were to do this experiment again, I would change a few things. I would change the color of the purple honey water and I would change the number of butterflies we tested.


We tested monarch butterflies to see if they had a memory or not. Our results turned out to somewhat prove that they don't have a memory, or at least not a very good one. Our results did not support our hypothesis. I learned that monarch butterflies do not have a memory or a very short one. I also learned that it does not depend on whether it is a male or female because we had a mixture of both.

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