Monarch Butterfly Facts, Life Cycle & Migration

Monarch butterflies (scientific name Danaus plexippus) are one of the most recognizable butterflies in North America. Because of its color, this monarch butterfly species may also be called the “Black-Veined Brown” or “Common Tiger” butterfly. Monarch butterfly habitat is essentially open fields and meadows where milkweeds grow in the spring and summer. Monarchs are distasteful to birds and other predators since monarchs absorb various toxins from the milkweed plants they feed on. Although Danaus plexippus is basically a North American species, they will also live in the South Pacific. Threats to monarchs come from habitat loss, food plant destruction, improper use of insecticides.

HOW TO IDENTIFY MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

Most butterflies in the genus Danaus are orange, black, and white. Monarchs are often mistaken for the smaller viceroy butterfly, so be careful not to be confused if you see a butterfly that looks almost entirely like a monarch but is smaller. However, one of the most important characteristics that distinguish these butterflies is the presence or absence of a black line on the wing.

LIFE CYCLE

Monarch butterflies develop by complete metamorphosis, which means they go through four distinctly different stages - Egg, Larval (caterpillar) Pupal and Adult. The time frame for a monarch to complete its life cycle (egg through living adult) depends upon many environmental factors, but generally is about 7 -13 weeks.

MIGRATION

The North American Monarch butterflies have a very simple migration pattern. From points east of the Rocky Mountains, the butterflies cross the Gulf of Mexico and hibernate in Mexico on oyamel fir trees. From points west of the Rocky Mountains, they hibernate in southern California, in eucalyptus trees. Since monarch migration routes expose them to winds, sometimes the North American monarchs are blown off course and end up in other countries throughout the world.