The Monarch Butterfly
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
Would you believe?
When migrating, this tiny insect can fly up to 130 kilometers (80 miles) a day.
Did You Know?
There are more monarchs in Ontario than in any other province in Canada. Why does this butterfly like Ontario so much? There are more milkweed plants in Ontario than in any other province and the monarch needs the milkweed plant to survive.
Warning! This beauty is poisonous. Most animals that try to eat the monarch get sick. What a great way for monarchs to protect themselves against predators! The monarch’s pattern and bright colour reminds other species to stay away!
What makes the monarch poisonous?
During its larval/caterpillar stage, the monarch eats only milkweed – a poisonous plant.
- average wingspan – around 10 centimeters (4 inches)
- weight – approximately 14 grams (half an ounce)
- speed – can reach 18 kilometers per hour (11 miles per hour)
- distance – some can travel up to 130 kilometers (80 miles) per day (during migration)
Life cycle – There are four stages in the butterfly life cycle:
- Egg: The female monarch butterfly lays eggs on the underside of milkweed plant leaves. The mother butterfly has natural “glue” that she uses to stick the eggs to the leaves. In about 5 days, the eggs hatch.
- Larva (caterpillar stage)
- When the egg hatches the larva (or caterpillar) appears. The caterpillar actually eats its way out of its shell. Once it’s out, the caterpillar eats the rest of its shell. What a great first meal – full of vitamins! Next the caterpillar starts eating milkweed. (The monarch caterpillar will only eat milkweed) They eat and eat and eat and eat! The larval stage lasts about 3 weeks. The caterpillar eats so much during that time that it outgrows its skin a number of times.
- After the caterpillar has shed its skin for the fourth time it finds a good spot to “hang out”. It hangs upside down for what is certainly the most amazing part of its life. When it sheds its skin for the 5th and final time a beautiful jade (green) chrysalis appears. The chrysalis is like a little sac. This is the beginning of the pupa stage.
- Pupa (the chrysalis stage): A magic trick happens inside the chrysalis: The caterpillar turns into a butterfly. This metamorphosis (complete change in body) takes about 2 weeks.
- Adult butterfly: When the butterfly appears, its wings are damp. It must wait for its wings to dry (about an hour) before it can fly. Most adult butterflies live only 4 to 5 weeks. But some adults live 6-8 months. (That’s like a human living 500 years in comparison to the average human who lives only about 70 years)
The monarchs that live long are the ones born in the fall that must make the long journey to a warm place to escape cold winters. A trip to Mexico from eastern Canada is up to 4500 km (2800 miles). The monarch is believed to be the only insect capable of making such a long journey.
- two pairs of bright orange wings with black veins and white spots on the edges (all butterflies and moths have four wings)
- a built in “straw” called a proboscis that the monarch uses to suck nectar from plants (when it’s not being used, the proboscis gets coiled and tucked up under the monarch’s head
- taste sensors located at the bottom of the monarch’s long thin legs (they taste food with their feet!)
- adult monarchs: nectar from milkweed and other flowering plants; water; liquid from fruits
- caterpillars: milkweed leaves only
- open spaces: meadows, fields, marshes, roadsides and gardens
- farmers kill milkweed plants because they’re worried that milkweed will harm their farm animals
- loss of milkweed is one of the main reasons why the monarch is now considered a “species at risk”
- loss of its winter habitat (in Mexico) is another major problem for the monarch
How You Can Help:
If you have a little room in your backyard, why not help the monarch? You can find out how to plant your own butterfly garden by clicking here. Learning more about the problems faced by the monarch is one of the best things you can do to help. For more information, check out the following links:
- Writer: Susan Terrill
- Camera: Douglas von Rosen
- Editor: Douglas von Rosen
- Narrator: Susan Sentesy
- Music: Peter Kiesewalter