The Monarch Butterfly

(Danaus plexippus)

Monarch Butterfly, Royalty in the Garden.

The Monarch is perhaps the best known butterfly in North America. You may see it from spring to fall and year round in warm areas.


This butterfly is wide spread throughout Canada and the United States, including Southern Alaska and Hawaii. Wherever its host plant is growing, you will them.

As the only true migratory butterfly: eastern and western populations over-winter in the fir forests of central Mexico.

The Pacific coast population travel to the California coast for the winter months.

Here they perch on pine and eucalyptus trees and occasionally will forage for nectar on warm day.

The Monarch has a well known kinship with a smaller look alike, the Viceroy butterfly.

Viceroys are smaller, but resemble the unpalatable orange and black markings, thereby tricking birds into ignoring it as well.

In late summer and early fall, you may come across a migration trail and wind up in the middle of hundreds of these beauties as the meander south.

Only the last batch will migrate as immature (sexually) butterflies. It is this generation that survives the winter and starts the migration north. It may take up to 4 generations to reach the northern boundaries of the migration trail.


The large butterfly is orange, with black veins and borders. The male has a small black scent patch on each wing and is typically brighter in color. The average size is 3 and 1/2 inches to 4 inches wing tip to wing tip.


They prefer open fields, meadows and roadsides where milkweeds abound, but is often found flitting through parks and your gardens in populated areas.


This butterfly has a soft, lilting flight.

Over wintering in the tens of thousands often covering entire branches to the point the branches will droop from the weight.

Larvae and host plants:

Larvae feed on various species of milkweed and other plants in the milkweed family. This is where they get their toxins that give them that bad taste to predators.

The toxins last their short life.

If Monarch larvae are forced to feed on other plants, they lose that ability to defend.

Creation is so amazing:

God's designs and plans for all of his creatures.

Caterpillars go through 5 instars or shedding of a tight skin to a lose and baggy one that it will grow into. Think of how you buys closths for kids or your parents bought cloths for you. Yes there were plans for you to grow into the larger clothing items.

This is the same for caterpillars, they grow into their new skin and shed it again until the fifth change of skin.

The caterpillar doesn't just shed that skin, it digests and reabsorbs most of it. Before the skin starts shedding it does get tight. But it doesn't just slip off. What happens is that the cells beneath the skin start releasing enormous amounts of enzymes and actually absorb most of the skin.

Before it's shed it becomes a thin sheen over the body. So what is shed is just a thin outer part of the cuticle.

After the fifth instar or skin shed, the caterpillar is ready to change for the next stage of life.

An amazing metamorphosis takes place.

A total body change, from a caterpillar to a light green chrysalis and 10 days later, this ugly caterpillar arrives as a regal Monarch butterfly

They have yellow, black and white stripes and a pair of black, hairlike appendages on the front and rear.

The eggs are laid by the Females during spring and summer breeding months.

The mature butterfly emerges after about two pupal weeks and hangs from the split chrysalis for several hours until its wings are dry (often in the morning).

Meanwhile fluids are pumped into the crinkled wings until they become full and stiff. Some of this orangey fluid (called meconium) drips from the wings.

Finally (usually in the afternoon) the monarch spreads its wings, quivers them to be sure they are stiff, and then flies away to feed.

Nectar plants:

Various milkweed plants (several are suited and cultivated for you garden), Lantana, lilac, cosmos, goldenrod, zinnia and others.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Genesis 1: 1-2

Other Common butterflies

The Epic Journey South

Monarch Facts

A Butterfly Friendly Yard

Create a Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Flowers and Plants

Create a Butterfly Garden

Learn More About Butterflies

Share Your Passions, "Site Built It" will help.

Butterflies, birds, gardens and more.

Sign up for your FREE weekly "Gardening For Wildlife" newsletter.

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Gardening For Wildlife.