monarch butterfly


monarch butterfly
a large, deep-orange butterfly, Danaus plexippus, having black and white markings, the larvae of which feed on the leaves of milkweed. Also called monarch.
[1885-90]

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Species (Danaus plexippus, family Danaidae) of milkweed butterfly, occurring worldwide but mainly in the Americas.

It is the only lepidopteran species to make a true migration (a two-way flight by the same individual). In North America, thousands of monarchs gather in autumn, migrate southward, sometimes more than 1,800 mi (2,900 km), and return north in spring. The distinctive coloration of the adult's wings (reddish brown, with black veins, a black border, and two rows of spots) warns predators of its bad taste. Several other species derive protection by mimicking its coloration.

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insect
      familiar member of the milkweed butterfly group, known for its large size, its orange and black wings, and its long annual migrations. Monarchs are concentrated in North, Central, and South America but can also be found in Australia, Hawaii, India, and other locations, albeit intermittently in some.

      The monarch's wingspan averages 90 to 100 mm (about 4 inches). The coloration of the orange wings, marked by black veins and a black border with two rows of spots, warns predators of the insect's bad taste. The palatable viceroy butterfly (see brush-footed butterfly) mimics (mimicry) the monarch's coloration and pattern as a form of defense.

 In North America thousands of monarchs gather in autumn and migrate (migration) southward, sometimes traveling almost 3,000 km (about 1,800 miles) to overwinter on the California coast or on a few mountains northwest of Mexico City. All begin to return north in the spring, feeding on nectar along the way. Eggs are laid only on milkweed plants, and a new generation hatches, matures, and continues the northward trip.

      The monarch caterpillar is easily recognized by its vertical stripes of black, white, and yellow-green. After several molts, it attains a length of 45 mm (almost 2 inches). The caterpillar usually leaves its milkweed plant to pupate elsewhere as a pale green, golden-spotted chrysalis. Adults live only a few weeks, except for those that migrate south and winter in Mexico.

      Like all butterflies (butterfly) and moths (moth), monarchs are classified in the order Lepidoptera (lepidopteran).

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Universalium. 2010.