(Danaus plexippus)
    photos     references   back

Geographic range: Palearctic, Nearctic, Oriental, Neotropical, Australian, Oceanic Islands: Danaus plexippus ranges from North and South America and the Caribbean to Australia, New Zealand, the oceanic islands of the Pacific, Mauritius, the Canary Islands of the Atlantic, and, most recently, Western Europe.

Physical characteristics: Adults of both sexes are bright orange with black borders and veins.

Food habits: The larva feed on a wide range of milkweeds of the genus Asclepias. From these plants they acquire and store cardiac glycosides, secondary plant compounds that protect them from predation. The adults of the species forage for flower nectar.

Reproduction: The mating period occurs in the spring, just prior to migration from the overwintering sites. The courtship of D. plexippus is fairly simple and less dependent on chemical pheromones in comparison with other species in its genus. Courtship is composed of two distinct stages, the aerial phase and the ground phase. During the aerial phase, the male pursues, nudges, and eventually takes down the female. Copulation occurs during the ground phase and involves the transfer of a spermatophore from the male to female. Along with sperm, the spermatophore is thought to provide the female with energy resources that aid her in carrying out reproduction and remigration. Once they reach their breeding grounds, the females lay their eggs on milkweed host plants. The egg and larval period is temperature dependent and lasts about 2 weeks. At the end of this period, the larva enter a period of pupation, and after 9 to15 days an adult butterfly emerges.

Behavior: Like birds, D. plexippus follows a pattern of seasonal migration. There are two distinct populations in the North America, those that breed in the East and those that breed in the West. Each autumn millions of these butterflies leave their breeding grounds and fly to overwintering sites. The Eastern population overwinters in the volcanic mountains of eastern Michoacan in central Mexico. The Western breeders spend their winters along the California coast. Similar migratory behavior has been observed in Costa Rican and Australian populations.

Habitat: D. plexippus is a predominantly open country, frost intolerant species whose range of breeding habitats is greatly dependent upon the presence of asclepiad flora (milkweeds). The monarch requires dense tree cover for overwintering, and the majority of the present sites in California are associated with Eucalyptus trees, specifically the blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus. These trees were introduced from Australia and have filled the role of native species that have been been reduced by logging.

Biomes: temperate forest & rainforest, temperate grassland, chaparral, tropical rainforest, tropical deciduous forest, tropical scrub forest, tropical savanna & grasslands, mountains

Status: special concern

The annual monarch migration is considered a "threatened phenomena" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Steps have been taken by both the United States and Mexican governments aloge with numerous private individuals and organizations to protect the overwintering sites of these butterflies.


Quick Menu: Animals Home - Invertebrates - Rays - Fish - Amphibians - Reptiles - Birds - Mammals - Images of Nature - IMANAT
Places Home - Plants Home - Fun & Edu - Photo - Video - Sound - Maps - Links - Contact - Mexican Biodiversity - Biodiversity Conservation

Viva Natura Field Guide App