Monarchs (Danaus plexippus
) are one of three milkweed butterflies
commonly found in Florida. The others are Queens and Soldiers.
Monarchs are probably the most easily recognized butterfly, not only by their bright orange and black wings, but also due to the publicity that arises from their migrations.
Monarchs can be found in open areas in all regions of Florida year-round. Monarchs migrating from the north to winter in Mexico can be seen passing through the Florida panhandle in October and November.
Monarchs are strong fliers. They often flap slowly and then glide. They rest with their wings folded, but bask with them open.
Monarchs breed successively. Females lay their eggs only on the leaves, stems, and flowers of milkweed plants
. The caterpillars are banded in rings of black, yellow, and white. They have two long black filaments just behind the head and two shorter ones at the end of the abdomen.
The caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves, flowers, and smaller stems. Some milkweed plants are toxic and the poison consumed by the caterpillar protects the butterflies from most predators. Orioles and jays eat only the nontoxic parts of the butterflies and black-headed grosbeaks are immune to the toxin. However, generally, once a bird becomes ill from eating a toxic monarch, it will avoid monarchs and similarly colored butterflies.
If the weather is warm, the caterpillar will eat for 10-15 days. It will then spin a small silk pad on the underside of a nearby leaf or twig (or whatever strikes their fancy) and hang upside down from the silk in a "J" position. Soon it will begin expanding, its skin will split and the chrysalis will emerge. The chrysalis is emerald green with a row of gold-topped black dots near the top and scattered dots near the bottom. When the chrysalis emerges, it's obvious where the butterfly's wings are. As the days go by, the butterfly's distinctive markings become clearer. Again depending on temperature, the butterfly will emerge in 10-14 days.
The Photo Gallery
contains many pictures of monarch butterflies and caterpillars, including metamorphosis and raising them.