Milkweed Butterflies (Danaus)

picture of a Queen Butterfly

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The Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippusis) one of three Danaus or milkweed butterflies commonly found in the United States, have a narrow range, living in Midwest and Southeast milkweed habitat.

Field identification can be easy or difficult, depending on location. In areas where Queens and Soldiers overlap, identification can be tricky because the wings of both species share similar physical characteristics.

The top picture shows a top view of the Queen's wings. The chestnut colored wings lack the black veins visible in the Soldier butterfly.

Only in the butterfly world do monarchs and queens outnumber soldiers. In fact, the Soldier Butterfly (Danaus eresimus) is the least wide spread of the three milkweed butterfly species in the United States, found in South Florida, Texas and Arizona.

They look very similar to Queens with the addition of some dark veins on the chestnut colored wings. Queens and Soldiers often nectar together in areas where their territories overlap. Because they tend to keep their wings folded, checking the wings for a watermark is a good way to differentiate between the two species.

Monarch Butterfly Facts

The Monarch Butterfly, probably the most recognizable member of the group, ranges across the United States.

picture of a monarch butterfly

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), one of the most celebrated butterflies in the Americas, is known for its annual migration.

Each spring and fall they fly back and forth between the summer breeding grounds in the United States and Canada, and their winter resting grounds in Mexico.

Two distinct Monarch populations east and west of the Rocky Mountains are documented, with a population that winters in Southern California in areas such as Pismo Beach.

Field identification is usually easy. They have orange wings, outlined in black, and white spots on a black face.

Usually remains the key word. The Queen Butterfly, Soldier Butterfly and Viceroy Butterfly look similar and close inspection of the wing pattern is necessary to differentiate among the species in areas with overlapping populations.

Monarch butterflies made a good deal of news starting in 1999, when a researcher from Cornell University conducted a laboratory study on the effect of Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a natural insecticide, on the monarch butterfly.

BT properties were being bred into some genetically altered corn varieties to deal with the European corn borer. Since milkweed and cornfields grow together, the fear was that monarch butterfly caterpillars were susceptible to harm, even to death, when they ingested milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from genetically engineered Bt corn.

The research brought on a wave of press attention questioning the safety of BT crops. Follow up research showed little harm to monarch populations to date.

A changing climate along with changes in winter and summer monarch habitats poses the greatest threat to monarch populations.

Since 2000, severe climactic conditions in their wintering area, The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, have caused massive population declines, with reports of the loss of millions of individual butterflies.

Sporadic reports of decreases in Monarch Butterfly populations have also been reported in various areas of their summer breeding range. These declines are attributed to habitat loss. Their larvae feed on milkweed, and the transformation of prairie and grassland to farmland has translated into a loss of available milkweed.

In one sense, the Monarch is the most popular butterfly in the United States. Eight states, Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia call it either the official state insect or the official state butterfly.

© 2007-2014 Patricia A. Michaels. All Rights Reserved.