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Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Animal's Behavior

There may be no more widely recognized butterfly than the monarch. With its easily identifiable caterpillar, beautiful pale green and gold chrysalis, and its distinctive coloration as a butterfly, the monarch may be the butterfly most familiar to people in North America. Its migration to Mexico is the stuff of legend, and many a scientist has spent a lifetime studying its fascinating behavior.

Eating Habits

Milkweed is the sole source of food for monarchs as caterpillars. As butterflies, they consume liquids such as nectar.

Range

North and South America, Hawaii and Australia

Conservation Efforts

Monarch butterflies go through four or five generations each year. The adults of fall migrate to Mexico – this is the case for nearly all monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains - where they overwinter in what some consider to be one of the wonders of the natural world. The number of monarchs making this trip seems to be declining. Conservationists are hoping the population rebounds. While the reasons for the decline are being studied, one thing everyone can do is plant more milkweed plants to support the monarch larvae. Some organizations participate in monarch tagging programs to try to better understand the monarch life cycle.

Animal Facts

  • While the monarch’s coloration looks beautiful to us, for predators it is a warning sign that the monarch tastes bad and may be poisonous. The milkweed they eat as caterpillars is loaded with heart toxins that most insect predators (birds, lizards, etc.) cannot handle. And even after metamorphosing into a butterfly, the insect still retains these chemical defenses!

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Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Danaus plexippus

Classification

Animalia, Arthropoda, Insecta, Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae

Place of Birth

Leaves of milkweed plants in forests, fields, urban and suburban areas

Size

About a 4-inch wingspan

Color

Beautiful orange with black veining pattern

Lifespan

As long as 6 – 8 weeks, more for the overwintering generation of monarchs

Conservation Status

Near Threatened

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