Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

by James K. Sayre

The large handsome yellow and black Monarch Butterfly is a familiar sight in the summertime in gardens and fields across North America. The Monarch Butterfly is the only insect presently known to science to go on annual long-distance migrations. In the parts of North America that are west of the Rocky Mountains, the Monarchs stage a mass autumn migration to wintering areas along the California coast, which typically experiences mild winter weather. Monarch Butterflies quickly adapted to using the Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus globulus) (first planted in the middle of the 19th century) as their favorite winter roosts, because the Blue Gums bloom in the winter, and thus provide a much needed food supply in the form of nectar.

In the eastern and central parts of North America, that is, east of the Rocky Mountains, the Monarch Butterflies typically stage autumn migrations into the mountains of central Mexico, where they spend the winter. Their favorite overwintering area is between forty and one hundred miles west of Mexico City, in what is called the Transverse Neovolcanic Belt. Here, at altitudes of between 9,000 feet and 10,000 above sea level they roost on branches of the Oyamel Fir (Abies religiosa). These high-altitude forests typically stay a few degrees above freezing throughout the winter season.

Monarch Butterflies are also found in the Caribbean area, Central America and South America. In the 19th century, Monarch Butterflies appeared in the Hawai'ian Islands, at the time some Milkweed plants were imported for horticultural purposes. Milkweed plants are the most favored food of the Monarch Butterfly, so probably some eggs came along with the imported Milkweed plants.

The Monarch Butterfly is also established in Australia, the Canary Islands, New Zealand, India, New Guinea, Ceylon, Pacific Islands and Mauritius.

In Australia, the Monarch Butterfly is called the Wanderer Butterfly. It is found in all of the States of Australia, but is most common in the warmer regions.

Some useful links about the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus):

Monarch Watch by the University of Kansas Etymology Program: Monarch Watch

the Wanderer Butterfly or Monarch Butterfly in South Australia: the Wanderer Butterfly

The Monarch Butterfly in Canada: Monarchs in Canada

If you search the web using the scientific name for the Monarch Butterfly, "Danaus plexippus" you will find the less commercial and more scientific websites.




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Web page last updated on 20 February 2005.