Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus
Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus. Photo © Silvrshootr / iStockphoto.

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has a black body with white spots and bright orange wings with black borders and veins (some white spots are dappled in the black wing areas too). Monarchs are poisonous due to toxins in the milkweed plant (milkweed is a food source for the monarch caterpillar) and their bright coloration serves as a warning to potential vertebrate predators.

Monarchs develop through four stages in their life cycle:

  1. egg
  2. caterpillar (larva)
  3. crysalis (pupa)
  4. adult (winged butterfly)

Female monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. The eggs hatch and small caterpillars emerge. These caterpillars feed on the milkweed before suspending itself on the underside of a leaf or branch and forming a chrysalis. After about two weeks, a mature monarch emerges from the chrysalis.

There are two populations of monarchs in the US (eastern and western). The eastern population overwinters in the mountains of eastern Michoacan in central Mexico and the western population overwinters along the California coast.

Caterpillars feed on the leaves of the milkweed plant (Genus Asclepias). Adults feed on the nectar of flowers.

Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Suborder: Macrolepidoptera
  • Family: Danaidae
  • Genus: Danaus
  • Species: Danaus plexippus

In warm season habitats found in open habitat such as prairie.

Requires the milkweed presence of the milkweed plant to provide food source to caterpillars. Overwintering habitat is dense forest. Occurs in North and South America and overwinters in the Caribbean. Also found in Australia, New Zealand, the oceanic islands of the Pacific, Mauritius, the Canary Islands of the Atlantic, and Western Europe.