Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus
The monarch butterfly is reddish-orange with black vein-like markings. There is a black border around its wings with white spots on it. Its wings look like stained glass windows! When its wings are open, they are about four inches wide.
Males and females are similar in appearance, but the the black veins are thicker on the female's wings, and the male has small pouches on its hind wings where it stores
The bright orange of the monarch is
a type of advertising coloration that warns predators away.
The monarch butterfly is found in North America from southern Canada
south to South America and the Caribbean. It is most common east of the Rocy Mountains and is not found in some areas of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Monarchs that live east of the Rocky Mountains usually overwinter in Mexico. Monarch that live east of the Roky Mountains may overwinter or live year-round in southern California. The monarch butterfly has also been established in Hawaii and Australia.
Eating milkweed causes the monarch to store alkaloid. This makes it taste horrible to predators! This is such an effective protection from predators, the the viceroy butterfly has adapted to look like the monarch so predators will leave it alone too!
Monarch butterfly reproduction is a complicated process! It is tied in to the migratory patterns of the monarch. In the monarch's summer territory, which includes most of North America, monarchs will mate up to seven times. Each butterfly lives from two to six weeks. The male courts the female in the air, tackles her and breeds with her on the ground. As the monarchs migrate to their summer territory, the female lays her eggs on milkweed plants. The eggs take 3-15 days to hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on the milkweed for about two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, they attach themselves to a twig, shed their outer skin and change into a chrysalis. This happens in just a few hours! In two weeks, a full-grown monarch emerges!
The monarch butterfly is a long-distance migrator. It migrates both north and south like birds do. But, unlike birds, individual butterflies don't complete migration both ways. It is their great-grandchildren that end up back at the starting point.
Video Credit: US Fish and Wildlife