Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada
Clickable Guide
Moths Butterflies Flies Caterpillars Flies Dragonflies Flies Mantids Cockroaches Bees and Wasps Walkingsticks Earwigs Ants Termites Hoppers and Kin Hoppers and Kin Beetles True Bugs Fleas Grasshoppers and Kin Ticks Spiders Scorpions Centipedes Millipedes


TaxonomyBrowse
Info
ImagesLinksBooksData

Species Danaus plexippus - Monarch - Hodges#4614

Monarch ovipositing in December - Danaus plexippus - female Hudson Lepidoptera #1 - Danaus plexippus - male Monarch - Danaus plexippus Monarch Butterflies Mating - Danaus plexippus - male - female Monarch Butterflies Mating 2 - Danaus plexippus - male - female Tagged Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) - Danaus plexippus - female my tagged monarch - Danaus plexippus Monarch - Danaus plexippus - male
Show images of: caterpillars · adults · both
Classification
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies (excluding skippers))
Family Nymphalidae (Brushfooted Butterflies)
Subfamily Danainae (Milkweed Butterflies & Glasswings)
Tribe Danaini (Milkweed Butterflies)
Genus Danaus
Species plexippus (Monarch - Hodges#4614)
Hodges Number
4614
Other Common Names
Milkweed Butterfly
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Papilio plexippus Linnaeus 1758
Size
Wingspan 8.6-10.5 cm
Identification
Distinctive, but compare Viceroy, which has a dark line across hindwing and is smaller. See here:
Monarch often shows distinctive gliding flight with a dihedral (V).

Males have scent-scale patches on hindwings, prominent when wings are open, and just possible to see when wings are folded.


Range
Much of temperate North America into tropics and much of South America. Also some islands in Pacific, Australia (introduced?). Highly migratory.
Habitat
Open areas with flowers, hostplants
Season
March through fall in eastern US. All year in tropics.
Food
Adults take nectar from a variety of flowers.
The caterpillars feed on plants in the Milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae [or Apocynaceae in part]), primarily Milkweeds (Asclepias), but also other genera including Calotropis, Cynanchum, Gonolobus, Sarcostemma, etc.
Life Cycle
The adults make mass migrations from August-October, flying to hibernate along the California coast and in central Mexico.
At the wintering sites in Mexico, the butterflies roost in trees and form huge aggregations that may have millions of individuals.
They leave for the north in the spring, and females lay eggs along the way.

The females lay eggs singly on the leaves of the milkweeds (Asclepias); caterpillars eat the leaves and flowers.


An egg




Caterpillar

and one that won't make it:



The chrysalis is light green, except for when the butterfly is about to emerge

female vs male:


Chrysalis just before emergence




Freshly emerged butterfly

and some don't make it:
Remarks
There are extensive accounts of Monarch migration and ecology in technical and popular literature.
See Also
Compare the Viceroy (below), an unrelated mimic. Easily distinguishable by the black stripe across the Viceroy's hindwings.

Relatives of the Monarch are: Queen and Soldier.
Print References
Glassberg (1)
Brock and Kaufman (2)
Scott (3)
Allen (4)
Rea (5)
Works Cited
1.Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East
Jeffrey Glassberg. 1999. Oxford University Press.
2.Butterflies of North America (Kaufman Focus Guides)
Jim P. Brock, Kenn Kaufman. 2003. Houghton Mifflin Co.
3.The Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide
James A. Scott. 1992. Stanford University Press.
4.The Butterflies of West Virginia and Their Caterpillars
Thomas J. Allen. 1998. University of Pittsburgh Press.
5.Milkweed, Monarchs and More: A Field Guide to the Invertebrate Community in the Milkweed Patch
Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser, Michael Quinn. 2003. Bas Relief Publishing Group.
6.Butterflies of North America