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Monarch Danaus plexippus

The Monarch butterfly is probably one of the best known butterflies in North America.  It is a medium to large butterfly with a wing span of 3.5-4 inches.  The upper sides are bright orange with black borders and veins.  They are found in many open habitats, such as sandhills, flatwoods, pastures and weed lots.

Monarchs, Queens, and Soldiers are known as Milkweed butterflies because the females lay their eggs on Milkweed plants and the caterpillars feed mostly on these plants.  The caterpillars accumulate toxins from these plants that make them distasteful to some predators.  The Monarch caterpillars have yellow, black and white rings on each segment.  They also have a pair of black tuberacles at each end, with the pair at the head end being longer than the pair at the other end.

Monarchs are found throughout most of North America and south to South America.  This species is quite migratory, moving southward to avoid frost. Come fall, the populations east of the Rockies fly southward to Central Mexico where they over winter in large colonies.  Populations west of the Rockies migrate to southern California.  Come spring, they start migrating northward.  The females lay their eggs in southern states, where they die.  Their offspring then continue the migration northward.  After several generations, they reach southern Canada. The next generation then migrates southward again to Mexico and California.  In southern Florida, there is a resident population that produces up to six broods throughout the year.

The top two photos and the photos of the caterpillars were taken in Deep Creek in Charlotte County.  The lower right photo was taken in Sarasota County.