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Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch belonging to the Nymphalidae family is a widespread butterfly species of North America, famed for its bright and appealing coloration.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Danaus
  • Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus


Description and Identification


Monarch Caterpillar
Monarch Larvae

At the onset, they are pale green, with their body color gradually becoming white, bright yellow and black. They have white and black bands which appear wider and narrower respectively in bright light and vice versa in dark light.

Pupa (Chrysalis)

Monarch Chrysalis
Monarch Butterfly Cocoon

It appears long, having a soft texture and a pale green body with golden dots.  On maturation, the color changes, and it gradually becomes brown, orange and yellow, as the adult butterfly is about to evolve.


Sexual Dimorphism: Present

Color and Appearance: When opened, the upper parts of its wings are orange with black margins and veins running through. The margins also have tiny white spots arranged in two series. The fore and hind wings have a yellowish-brown tinge at their tips with large white spots.  When closed, the wings have black margins and veins against an orange background, alongside tiny white spots.

The males are larger than females in body and wing size. The veins on their wings are narrow and light.

The white monarch butterfly, mostly a result of a recessive gene is found in Hawaii’s Oahu region, though it might rarely occur in other places too.

Female Monarch Butterfly
Male Monarch

Average wingspan: 8.9 to 10.2 cm (31/2 to 4 inches)

Flight Pattern: Smooth and sailing, with their flight speed estimated to be about 9 km per hour or 5.5 mph, almost equivalent to the jogging speed of a human.


Monarch Butterfly Eggs

The eggs are mostly laid upon the milkweed plant by the female monarch butterflies. They are tiny, about the size of a pencil tip, being yellow or off-white.  There is a longitudinal base running from top to bottom. A female can lay approximately 500 eggs at once.

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

Quick Facts

Other names Common tiger, milkweed, black veined brown and wanderer
Distribution From southern Canada to northern parts of South America; North Africa; the Philippines; Gibraltar; Caribbean Islands; Cuba; Hawaii; Papua New Guinea; Bermuda and Cook islands
Habitat Spring and summer: Meadows and open fields;
Winter: Higher altitudes
Predators Wasps, ants, and spiders
Lifespan of adults Approximately two to six weeks
Host plants Common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, swamp milkweed, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, Canada goldenrod, common boneset, alfalfa, tall ironweed, thistles, asters, wild carrot, spotted Joe-Pye weed
Adult diet Nectar of native plants like milkweed

Did You Know

  • Carl Linnaeus described these butterflies for the first time in 1758, in his book Systema Naturae.
  • It has been named honoring England’s King William III; with his secondary title the Prince of Orange, corresponding to the main shade of the monarch.
  • The three species of the monarch include D. plexippus, D.erippus (southern monarch), and D.cleophile (Jamaican monarch).
  • The Canadian documentary film released in 2012, Flight of the Butterflies projects the migration and life cycle of the monarch butterflies.
  • Besides the milkweed, other flowers that attract the monarch butterfly include Mexican sunflowers, zinnia, and bottlebrush.
  • They have a significant role to play in Mexico’s prominent festival Día de Muertos or the Day of the Dead and locals believe them to be the spirits of the deceased.
  • These butterflies store a toxic substance, namely the Cardiac Glycosides which they ingest from the milkweed, thus being poisonous to their predators though not humans.
  • The monarch symbolizes rebirth, a new beginning, great opportunities, and spiritual enlightenment.
  • Their migration is two-way just like birds, not seen in any other butterfly species. The monarch can travel 50 to 100 miles in a day, with the highest record being 265 miles in one day.
  • Their numbers have declined massively as per a 2014 study based on a 20-year comparison, putting them at the risk of endangerment, the prime reasons being the depletion in breeding habitat and low availability of milkweed.
  • The “Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve,” in Mexico, located along the State of Mexico and Michoacan border was built for conserving these species. El Rosario is the largest and most popular sanctuary of this reserve.
Monarch Butterfly Images
Pictures of Monarch Butterflies
Black Monarch Butterfly
Yellow Monarch Butterfly
Danaus plexippus

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