Text Size: A  A  A

Monarch Butterfly

Danaus plexippus

The monarch butterfly can be found in fields and meadows where milkweed is common throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Thomas Bresson/Flickr)
{photos} {photo} {title} - {description} {/photo} {/photos}
The monarch butterfly can be found in fields and meadows where milkweed is common throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (Thomas Bresson/Flickr)

The monarch butterfly is known for its bright orange and black wings, which signal to potential predators that the species is poisonous.

Appearance:

  • Adult butterflies have wingspan of about four inches 
  • Bright orange upperwings are interlaced with black veins and surrounded by a wide, black border marked with white spots
  • Undersurface of wings are colored a duller orange to camouflage species against tree bark 
  • Males are slightly larger than females, have black spot on each hind wing 
  • Caterpillars have black, white and yellow bands over body with a pair of long black filaments near head and a pair of shorter filaments near rear  

Habitat:

  • Range of breeding habitat depends on presence of milkweeds, the single "host plant" and food source for monarch caterpillars. Adults often found in fields, meadows, marshes and roadsides where these plants are common 
  • Adults make annual long-distance migrations to overwinter in fir, pine, oak and cedar forests 

Range:

  • Expansive range extends through much of North, Central and South America
  • In North America, two distinct populations exist: one that breeds in the east, and one that breeds in the west
  • Introductions during nineteenth century have led to species becoming established in Australia, Indonesia and several Pacific Islands, as well as the Canary Islands and Spain 

Feeding:

  • Caterpillars feed on milkweed plants
  • Adults forage for flower nectar 

Predators:

  • Bright coloring of adults warns potential predators the species is poisonous, thanks to the accumulation in their bodies of toxic chemicals produced by milkweed plants 
  • Caterpillars preyed upon by some invertebrates, like wasps and ants 

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Mating occurs throughout summer and once again in spring before adult butterflies migrate from their overwintering sites 
  • During courtship, male pursues and nudges female in the air before taking her down to the ground to mate 
  • Female lays small eggs on milkweed "host plants," often on underside of leaves
  • Once hatched, caterpillar eats almost constantly over a nine-day to two-week period, shedding its skin several times before forming a chrysalis around itself and transforming from into a butterfly. The lime-green chrysalis is marked with gold spots and a black, horizontal band edged with gold 

Sources and Additional Information:


410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved