Danaus plexippus
(Linneaus, 1758) (Papilio)

Danaus plexippus, male, Florida, courtesy of Leroy Simon.

Superfamily: Papilionoidea
Family: Nymphalidae, Rafinesque, 1815
Subfamily: Danainae, Boisduval, 1833
Tribe: Danaini, Boisduval, 1833
Genus: Danaus: Kluk 1802

Website designed and maintained
by Bill Oehlke
Box 476, Montague
Prince Edward Island, Canada C0A 1R0


The monarch ranges throughout most of the United States and southern Canada. Fall migrations result in millions of butterflies resting in large colonies in Mexico and along the southern California coast. Butterflies also congregate along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast of the Southeastern United States to escape the freezing temperatures of more northerly climates.

I do see them occasionally in mid to late summer here on Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada, but I do not believe that they produce a brood here.

This species flies throughout much of South America and is also present in Australia, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands.


The dorsal surfaces of all wings are a deep orange with black borders adorned with two rows of white dots. There are also some pale orange spots near the forewing apex.

Black vein lines are thin in males and much thicker in females. Males also have a black patch of scent scales on each hindwing.

The ventral surfaces are similar but the orange colouration is much paler than on the upper surfaces.



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Photo courtesy of Monarch Watch

Many times as a young boy I was able to sneak up from behind on a feeding monarch butterfly and quickly, yet gently, close my thumb and forefinger on opposite sides of those brightly coloured wings just above the thorax.

More often, however, my prize was able to see or sense my encroaching hand and lift off, leaving my mouth open and my fingers empty.

It wasn't until much later in my life that I learned of the fascinating migratory habit of this insect.

Wherever you can find milkweed, you can find monarchs.

In New Jersey, where I grew up, Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was abundant in open fields. For those who wish to cultivate this "weed", there are many seed sources on the internet.

Male and female monarchs would nectar at the flowers and females would readily deposit single eggs on the under sides of upper leaves. Pale green eggs could usually be found by turning over a few such leaves, many of which approached 8 inches (20 cm) in length.

Photo courtesy of Monarch Watch

Eggs usually emerge in a few days and tiny larvae often eat the soft leaf tissue on the under surface before moving to leaf edge. Progression through five very similarly coloured instars is rapid.

Larvae usually feed from the underside of the leaf and sometimes also eat flower stems.

Photo courtesy of Monarch Watch

The jewel like pupa or chrysalis is a striking jade green with black and yellow dots.

Development is rapid and wing colours and outlines become clearly visible prior to emergence (eclosion).

The pupal stage only lasts about nine days, and butterflies must "hang" to inflate their wings.

Images courtesy of Monarch Watch

My mother, at age 75, still rears monarchs (usually only a half dozen or so at a time) as single larvae in 750-1000ml peanut butter jars. Larger jars or rearing containers are preferred, and a completely (almost) natural setting is most desirable. A small enclosure over a live milkweed plant works well. The enclosure material can be anything that allows for air circulation and light penetration and protects the larvae from other insect predators.

As a younster I had the pleasure of walking inside a very large enclosure, approximately 30 feet by 30 feet square and eight feet high, on the property of Mel Osbourne. Dr. Osbourne had many large milkweed plants and other adult food sources growing in the cage. Butterflies were flying about, mating, feeding, and laying eggs. Larvae could easily be found at various stages of development.

Dr. Osbourne needed a good supply of larvae, pupae, and adults for the life histories he was preparing.

Flight time(s) and Adult Food Sources:

In south Florida and south Texas the butterfly probably broods continuously with fewer broods as populations migrate northward in the spring and summer.

Adults feed on nectar from all milkweed species. Prior to the opening of the milkweed flowers, adults are often seen on dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistles. In the fall, adults visit composites including goldenrods, blazing stars, ironweed, and tickseed sunflower.

I seem to remember them at joe pie weed and butterfly bush.

Danaus plexippus, female, Florida, courtesy of Leroy Simon.

Eggs, Larvae, Pupae:

Pale green eggs are deposited singly on the undersides of milkweed leaves. Incubation is short, only a few days, and larval development is very rapid. Larvae pass through five instars before hanging from a silk mooring and forming their chrysalids. All five instars have similar colouration.

Danaus plexippus, larva, Florida, courtesy of Leroy Simon.

Danaus plexippus, pupa, Florida, courtesy of Leroy Simon.

Surprisingly, populations seem scarcer in Louisiana, Mississipi, Alabama, Georgia, South Caroliana and Tennessee and Indiana than in other states.

Otherwise, if you wish to see monarchs in your garden, cultivate some milkweed.

Quart sized jars, lids on tight with no airholes (necessary to conserve moisture in foliage), make nice little rearing containers. Larvae will probably hang from cardboard liner in lid to form the chrysalids.

Emergent butterflies are able to hang from the empty pupal shell while they inflate their wings by pumping body fluid into the wing veins.

The inflation process usually only takes about fifteen minutes and then another hour or so is needed for wings to dry or stiffen in preparation for flight.

The milkweed plant contains toxins that caterpillars/butterflies are able to assimilate in such a way as to make them distasteful to birds. Many people write that viceroys mimic the monarchs' colouration and patterning as a protection against avian predators.

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Visit other websites maintained by Bill Oehlke:

SATURNIIDAE (SILK MOTHS) OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: rearing info; livestock for sale.
SPHINGIDAE OF THE AMERICAS: North, Central and South America


This site is designed and maintained by Bill Oehlke. You can reach Bill for questions by clicking on his name (email) or by phone 902-838-3455, or at Bill Oehlke, Box 476, Montague, P.E.I., Canada C0A 1R0.

I offer two membership sites that far exceed the coverage offered on the sites listed above:

CATERPILLARS TOO! North American (Canada/US) Butterfly website

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