Monarch Butterfly
Taxonomic Hierarchy Photo
Kingdom: Animalia -- animal
Phylum: Arthropoda -- arthropods
      Subphylum: Hexapoda -- hexapods
Class: hexapoda -- insects

      Subclass:

Pterygota -- iwinged insects
           Infraclass: Neoptera -- modern, wing-folding insects
Order: Lepidoptera -- butterflies, moths
Superfamily: Papilionoidea -- butterflies
      Family: Nymphalidae -- admirals, anglewings, brush-footed butterflies
           Subfamily: Danainae -- Milkweed Butterflies
Genus: Danaus
Species: Danaus plexippus
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United States Range Map

 

California Range Map

Adult Sexes Similar

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Identification:   Life history:
Upperside of male is bright orange with wide black borders and black veins; hindwing has a patch of scent scales. Upperside of female is orange-brown with wide black borders and blurred black veins. Both sexes have white spots on borders and apex. The Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) is a Mullerian mimic; it has similar coloration and is also distasteful.   Adults warm up by basking dorsally (with their wings open and toward the sun). Females lay eggs singly under the host leaves; caterpillars eat leaves and flowers. Adults make massive migrations from August-October, flying thousands of miles south to hibernate along the California coast and in central Mexico. A few overwinter along the Gulf coast or south Atlantic coast. Along the way, Monarchs stop to feed on flower nectar and to roost together at night. At the Mexico wintering sites, butterflies roost in trees and form huge aggregations that may have millions of individuals. During the winter the butterflies may take moisture and flower nectar during warm days. Most have mated before they leave for the north in the spring, and females lay eggs along the way. Residents of tropical areas do not migrate but appear to make altitude changes during the dry season.
Flight:   Wing Span:
In North America during spring and summer there may be 1-3 broods in the north and 4-6 broods in the south. May breed all year in Florida, South Texas, and southeastern California.   3 3/8 - 4 7/8 inches (8.6 - 12.4 cm).

Caterpillar Hosts:

  Adult Food:
Milkweeds including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and showy milkweed (A. speciosa); and milkweed vine in the tropics. Most milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Monarch, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal, and avoid Monarchs in the future.   Nectar from all milkweeds. Early in the season before milkweeds bloom, Monarchs visit a variety of flowers including dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistles. In the fall adults visit composites including goldenrods, blazing stars, ironweed, and tickseed sunflower.
Habitat:   Season:
Many open habitats including fields, meadows, weedy areas, marshes, and roadsides.   March through fall in eastern US. All year in tropics.
Remarks:   Conservation:
    Conservation: Overwintering sites in California and Mexico should be protected and conserved.

NatureServe Global Status: G5 - Demonstrably secure globally, though it may be quite rare in parts of its range, especially at the periphery.

Management needs: Develop conservation and management plans for all wintering sites, migration corridors, and principal breeding areas.

Sources used to Construct this Page:  
            
 

Additional Photos

Adult Sexes Similar

       
 

All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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Global ranks indicate the rarity of a species at a global scale. Species may be fairly common globally but imperiled locally. Global ranks have the following meaning:

  • G1 - Critically Imperiled - At very high risk of extinction due to extreme rarity (often 5 or fewer populations), very steep declines, or other factors.
  • G2 - Imperiled - At high risk of extinction due to very restricted range, very few populations (often 20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors.
  • G3 - Vulnerable - At moderate risk of extinction due to a restricted range, relatively few populations (often 80 or fewer), recent and widespread declines, or other factors.
  • G4 - Apparently Secure - Uncommon but not rare; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.
  • G5 - Secure - Common; widespread and abundant.
  • * ? or Q = status unknown or uncertain