Explore Nov 10, 2011 #342
Ah, the extraordinary beauty of the Milkweed butterflies! Look at the rich orange and gold translucent mosaic wing patterns. And, my favorite part... the black polka dotted body and wing edges!
Take a close look at the likenesses and differences between the Monarch and the Queen butterflies. See comparison pictures below. Their bodies are both black with white dots and they both have white spots around the wing edges. But look more closely. The Monarchs have mosaic orange-brown wings but the Queen's wing mosaic pattern is much darker.
Both the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippu) lay their eggs on Milkweed. The caterpillars hatch and devour the Milkweed plant... almost to the ground. The newly emerging butterflies lay their eggs on the Milkweed, and the cycle begins again.
Milkweed, Monarch and Queen caterpillars have it all worked out. The Milkweed gets a pruning and rapidly comes back. And the caterpillars get the exact food they need to prepare for life in a cocoon and profound transformation... from larvae to glorious butterfly!
The total time frame for one butterfly's life cycle is about 6-8 weeks... egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. It grows in the egg for about 4 days. Then it munches Milkweed as a caterpillar (larvae) for about 2 weeks, shedding its skin and facemask like a crab as it outgrows it. Larvae of the Danaus plexippus can defoliate a milkweed plant in one to two days. Life inside the chrysalis (pupa) lasts about 10 days and its colorful and glorious life as an adult butterfly... a precious 2 to 6 weeks. Most milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult butterfly. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Monarch, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal, and avoid Monarchs in the future.
The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Danainae), in the family Nymphalidae. It is perhaps the best known of all North American butterflies. Since the 19th century, it has been found in New Zealand, and in Australia since 1871 where it is called the Wanderer. In Europe it is resident in the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira, and is found as an occasional migrant in Western Europe. Its wings feature an easily recognizable orange and black pattern, with a wingspan of 8.9–10.2 centimeters (3½–4 in). (The Viceroy butterfly has a similar size, color, and pattern, but can be distinguished by an extra black stripe across the hind wing.)
Female Monarchs have darker veins on their wings, and the males have a spot called the "androconium" in the center of each hind wing from which pheromones are released. Males are also slightly larger.Monarchs can be found in open areas in all regions of Florida year-round. Florida's Monarchs are unique in that they do not migrate out of the state during the winter (although they are thought to move further south when cold spells approach). In fact, Florida Monarchs are the most active and most visible here during the winter months. It is also thought that Monarchs from the Northeastern U.S. over-winter in Florida. It is presumed that these butterflies do not return to the north in spring but their offspring do.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami, FL
For more see my set, Florida Butterflies.