Species: D. plexippus
Common Name: Monarch Butterfly, Milkweed, Common Tiger, Wanderer, Black-Veined Brown
In North America, Monarch populations undertake migrations that can cover many thousands of miles. As Monarch butterflies have short lifespans, the full journey is undertaken by multiple generations. The total migration takes them as far south as Florida and Mexico in the winter, and as far north as Canada in the spring.
The vibrant coloration of the Monarch in both its caterpillar and butterfly stages is meant to warn potential predators that the Monarch is rather foul-tasting, due to the toxins it builds up in its body by consuming only milkweed plants as a caterpillar.
Certain animals still feed on Monarchs though, including certain birds and mice that are tolerant of the toxins in the butterfly’s body.
Like all butterflies and moths, Monarchs go through a process called metamorphosis. The egg hatches into a caterpillar, a worm-like larval stage. After eating lots of milkweed and growing up to two inches in length, the caterpillar will create a cocoon around itself; this is called the chrysalis stage. The green and gold chrysalis hangs from a silk pad on the underside of a surface. After about two weeks, this chrysalis will become translucent and an adult butterfly will emerge.
Monarchs are butterflies with two pairs of wings and six legs, the front pair of which are reduced and tucked under the body. They have a distinctive color pattern of orange wings with black veins, edged by white spots.
The wingspan of a Monarch can measure up to four inches.
Monarch caterpillars are striped with white, black, and yellow.
It is thought that the name “Monarch” comes from King William the 3rd of England, who ruled in the late 1600s. One of his titles was “Prince of Orange”, so the butterfly was named Monarch (or “ruler”) due to its distinctive orange coloration.