10 Incredible Monarch Butterfly Facts

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: July 24, 2022
Image Credit CHAINFOTO24/Shutterstock.com
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The Danaus plexippus, also known as the Monarch butterfly, is a fascinating species of butterfly that feeds on milkweed plants. Depending on where you are in the world, you might also hear people refer to this species as a black-veined brown, a wanderer, or even a common tiger. Want to learn more about this beautiful butterfly? Keep reading to explore 10 incredible Monarch butterfly facts!

1. When The Temperature Drops, Monarch Butterflies Huddle Together

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Michoacan, Mexico
Monarch butterflies come together on trees at night.

Noradoa/Shutterstock.com

Monarch butterflies migrate only during daylight. At dusk, they swarm down from the mountains and form dense groups on the ground. When butterflies congregate, they form what is known as a roost or bivouac. The Monarch butterfly population can swell to the thousands on one tree!

Although a single Monarch butterfly weighs as little as a gram, thousands and thousands of them add up to a significant mass. Although oyamel trees can usually handle the weight of a group of butterflies, some branch breaks do occur.

2. Monarch Butterflies Migrate As A Natural Part Of Their Life Cycle

group of monarch butterflies in sky with storm clouds
Some monarch butterfly migration patterns are as long as 3,000 miles.

iStock.com/dottedhippo

The Monarch butterfly’s migration is an innate behavior. Although a butterfly itself might not make it back to its natal pond, the butterflies that hatch from its eggs will. The Monarch butterfly could fly as much as 100 miles per day and annually migrates up to 3,000 miles. Combining air flow and thermals is necessary for such a long journey.

3. Monarch Butterflies’ flight Speeds Are Quite Remarkable

The monarch butterfly can fly at the rate of 4 – 12 mph. For perspective, the normal human jogging speed is between 6 to 8 mph. If conditions are right, monarch butterflies can soar to altitudes of up to 10,000 feet high. In one day, the farthest-flying Monarch butterfly ever recorded traveled over 260 miles!

4. The Dietary Habits Of Monarch Butterflies Are Unlike Other Butterflies

monarch butterfly on milkweed
Milkweed is the only flower that monarch caterpillars use as a food source.

iStock.com/herreid

Monarch butterflies can gain 2,700 times their original mass. These little caterpillars then go on to eat a poisonous plant called milkweed. A Monarch caterpillar stays as such for around 10 to 17 days. Once a Monarch caterpillar becomes a butterfly, its lifespan only lasts 2 to 6 weeks.

5. Monarch Butterflies And Caterpillars Are Extremely Poisonous To Predators

The milkweed that both the Monarch caterpillars and the butterflies rely on for survival includes a toxic poison that deters predators. Monarch butterflies are harmful to birds of prey because they can absorb but resist the plant’s toxin. The poisons accumulate in their bodies and ruin the flavor for everyone. Their predators have learned to avoid them as time has gone on. In fact, the predators of these butterflies are warned by the orange color of their wings.

6. The Monarch Butterfly Was Named After King William III

As a result of the early settlers’ admiration for the Monarch butterfly’s striking orange coloring, the species was given the name “Monarch” in honor of King William III, who was also known as the Prince of Orange. Thousands of small, colorful scales cover a monarch butterfly’s wing giving it this vivid orange hue. The natural breakdown of these scales causes the Monarch butterfly to lose its vibrancy near the end of its life cycle.

7. Just Because It’s Orange Does Not Mean It’s A Monarch Butterfly

There are other species of butterflies that resemble Monarchs in appearance; they include the queen, soldier, and viceroy butterflies. On the other hand, there are key distinctions that set each type apart. The vivid orange wings of a Monarch butterfly are veined with several black lines. Also, their black wings have white spots along the edges.

8. Hundreds of Eggs Are Laid At A Time By A Female Monarch Butterfly

monarch butterfly egg on leaf
A female monarch butterfly can lay up to 700 eggs at a time.

Sari ONeal/Shutterstock.com

In the wild, a female Monarch butterfly can produce hundreds of eggs, typically on milkweed plants. The number of eggs a butterfly lays increases dramatically when it is grown in captivity. The female Monarch butterfly deposits her sticky-coated eggs on the underside of poisonous milkweed leaves. Several days after hatching, the caterpillar feeds exclusively on the milkweed leaves on which it was hatched!

9. You Can Tell Female And Male Monarch Butterflies Apart If You Know What To Look For

Differences between male and female Monarch butterflies are rather inconspicuous. A male Monarch butterfly will have a little black mark on the wing vein right underneath the discal cell. This black spot is absent in females. The mark is clearly apparent whenever the wings are spread, and occasionally even when they are closed. The wing veins of males are also slightly less prominent than females.

10. You Can Create A Monarch Butterfly Garden!

Two Monarch butterflies and flowers in garden on bank of the Lake Ontario in Toronto, Canada
Monarch butterflies like natural vegetation.

emkaplin/Shutterstock.com

Monarch butterflies are important pollinators for gardens and ecosystems. Growers should consider monarch caterpillar plants. Milkweed plants allow monarch caterpillars to feed immediately after hatching. Aside from milkweed, these butterflies are also known to enjoy butterfly weed, coneflowers, asters, Bee balm, Joe Pye weed, golden rod, liatris, and penstemon.

Common milkweed is only somewhat harmful to humans, although this is only if it is ingested in large numbers. Milkweed can also cause skin and eye irritation if handled. Therefore, for your own safety, you should take precautions such as wearing gloves or washing your hands immediately after handling. Although Monarch caterpillars and butterflies can be harmful if consumed, touching them will not lead to any form of catastrophic repercussions.

Viceroy Butterfly Vs Monarch Butterfly
A monarch butterfly sitting on orange cosmos flowers in the spring.
CHAINFOTO24/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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