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Scientific name: Arthropoda: Insecta: Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus (L.)
Common Name: Information Sheet, Monarch
Photographer: D. S. Kjar
Identifier: Ecology Laboratory Butterfly Garden
Ecology Laboratory Butterfly Garden
Information Sheet, Monarch
Danaus plexippus (Linnaeus) 1758, Monarch
For more information on Monarch, please use "keywords" Monarch and Common Milkweed on BDWA.
Range. The Monarch is native to southern Canada, the conterminous U.S., and Mexico, and possibly farther south. People introduced the Monarch into Australia, Hawaii, and others parts of the world.
Habit. Egg: tan, ellipsoidal. Larva: black, yellow, and green stripes. Pupa: light green with black and gold markings. Adult: black, orange, and white. Males have "sex patches" on their hindwings.
General roles in forests. Monarchs are heterotrophs that live in forest openings, forest edges, fields, yards, and other habitats. Many kinds of organisms consume dead and living Monarchs.
Specific roles in forests. As larvae, this native butterfly consumes milkweeds that grow in forests and elsewhere. As important herbivores, these insects are part of the "balance of nature." Adult Monarch consume nectar from Milkweeds, Thistles, and other flowers. Some birds, praying mantids, spiders, and other predators kill and eat Monarchs. Most Monarchs feed on toxic milkweeds and are toxic to most vertebrate predators. The Viceroy (butterfly) is a "Mullerian mimic" of the Monarch. Other butterflies (e.g., the Queen and Vicerine) might have some protection from vertebrate predators by at least partially resembling Monarchs.
This is our National Insect and probably the best known butterfly in the world. In North America, Monarchs overwinter as adults in Southern CA, FL, and Mexico. Adults fly northward in the spring and lay their eggs along the way; successive broods fly northward during the warm season. The adults in WDC Area are great grandchildren of these overwintering adults. I plant milkweeds (Bloodflower and Common Milkweed) in my home garden and in the Observatory Garden, GU, and usually have a few Monarch larvae on the Milkweeds in these gardens each year.
The Monarch and the Oyamel Forest, Central Mexico. The Oyamel Forest, is dominated by fir trees (Abies spp.), and is now very fragmented. Hundreds of millions of Monarchs overwinter in the forest in the winter, with up to 5 million per acre. If these forests disappear, the Monarch will not go extinct, but its migration in Eastern United States to Mexico will go extinct. This migration is a great wonder of nature. Cutting of the forests is harming the Monarchs because the patches are now colder and windier, which decreases Monarch winter survivorship (NPR, 2000 09 12). In 2001, some people purposely sprayed a pesticide and killed thousands of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico so that they could illegally cut the forest.
Check out: MONARCH WATCH ( www.monarchwatch.org ), a collaborative network of students, teachers, volunteers and researchers investigating the Monarch butterfly migration phenomenon and its biology. Part of the program, initiated by the University of Kansas Department of Entomology, is tagging migrating Monarch Butterflies and rearing mature larvae (caterpillars).
Barrows, E. M. 1984. Perch sites and food of adult Chinese mantids (Dictyoptera: Mantidae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 86: 898–901.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation. 2000. The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation. A Conservation Initiative to Protect Monarch Butterfly Wintering Habitat in Mexico. Computer file http://www.learner.org/jnorth/sm/aboutmbsf.html .