The Monarch Butterfly
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Photo of a Monarch butterfly on milkweed
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Photo of a Milkweed Plant
The monarch butterfly is sometimes called the "milkweed butterfly" because its larvae eat the plant. In fact, milkweed is the only thing the larvae can eat! If you'd like to attract monarchs to your garden, you can try planting milkweed (if you live in the right area). You can purchase milkweed seed online from Butterfly Encounters (close window when done purchasing to return to this screen)
Adult female monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. These eggs hatch, depending on temperature, in three to twelve days.
Photo of a monarch caterpillar
thanks to Tanya for sending this in!
The larvae feed on the plant leaves for about two weeks and develop into caterpillars about 2 inches long.
After awhile, the caterpillars attach themselves head down to a convenient twig, they shed their outer skin and begin the transformation into a pupa (or chrysalis), a process which is completed in a matter of hours.
The pupa resembles a waxy, jade vase and becomes increasingly transparent as the process progresses. The caterpillar completes the miraculous transformation into a beautiful adult butterfly in about two weeks.
You can see photos of the entire process of a monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis at photo story provided by Linda.
The butterfly finally emerges from the now transparent chrysalis.
It inflates its wings with a pool of blood it has stored in its abdomen. When this is done, the monarch expels any excess fluid and rests.
The butterfly waits until its wings stiffen and dry before it flies away to start the cycle of life all over again.
Eastern populations winter in Florida, along the coast of Texas, and in Mexico, and return to the north in spring. Monarch butterflies follow the same migration patterns every year. During migration, huge numbers of butterflies can be seen gathered together.
Nope, those orange things to the left are not autumn leaves... They're hundreds of Monarch butterflies!
Most predators have learned that the monarch butterfly makes a poisonous snack. The toxins from the monarch's milkweed diet have given the butterfly this defense. In either the caterpillar or butterfly stage the monarch needs no camouflage because it takes in toxins from the milkweed and is poisonous to predators. Many animals advertise their poisonous nature with bright colors... Just like the monarch!
Can you see the difference?
The butterfly to the left is the Viceroy
He's evolved to look like the poisonous monarch to the right so that predators will avoid him too!
Still can't tell them apart? Notice that black stripe on the bottom wings of the Viceroy. That's the give-away! It's easily seen in the photos, but birds flying overhead looking for lunch cannot distinguish between the two.
Scientific genus and species: Danaus plexippus
- Class: Insecta (insects)
- Order: Lepidoptera (butterflies)
- Family: Danaidae (Milkweed butterfly family)
- Genus: Danaus
- Species: plexippus
Compare the "complete metamorphosis" of the butterfly with the "incomplete metamorphosis" of the dragonfly: