Monarch Butterfly

Danaus plexippus

Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are some of the most famous butterflies in the world. They are textbook examples of warning coloration; their brilliant colors are used to warn predators of their unpleasant taste.

For a long time, people knew that the monarch butterfly migrated south in the winter. However, until recently, no one knew where these butterflies went. Today we know they travel to a small mountainous region of Mexico.

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycles Video

To help show you the life cycle of the monarch video we have an amazing video from Lafayette Regional School’s 4th grade students:

What do Monarch Butterflies eat?

Have you ever wondered what those beautiful butterflies that we call Monarchs actually eat? You might be surprised when you realize that you probably have a lot of their food sources in or around your own backyard. However, you should also realize that a butterfly comes from a caterpillar. So lets start from the beginning.

The larvae (caterpillars) of monarch butterflies eat ONLY milkweed; this is why the monarch butterfly is dubbed the “milkweed butterfly.” The larvae stage is the only stage of the monarch butterfly that feeds on milkweed; there is something in milkweed that allows the caterpillar to grow and keep all of the vitamins needed to transform into a beautiful butterfly. In turn, the adult butterflies consume all sorts of different things, including nectar, water, and even liquids from some of the fruits we consume. If you are looking to attract monarch butterflies to your backyard, simply plant a few fruit-bearing trees along with plenty of flowers and you should definitely have yourself a back yard full of monarch butterflies. They especially like to drink from mushy slices of banana, oranges, and watermelon. There are special feeders you can buy that are colored like a flower and come with special sugar you mix in water to make food for them to eat.

Monarch Migrations

Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters of most of the United States, so they migrate south and west each autumn to escape the cold weather. The monarch migration usually starts around October each year, but it can start earlier if the weather turns cold sooner than that.

Monarch butterflies will spend their winter hibernation in Mexico and some parts of Southern California where it is warm all year long. If the Monarch lives in the Eastern states, usually east of the Rocky Mountains, it will migrate to Mexico and hibernate in oyamel fir trees. If the monarch butterfly lives west of the Rocky Mountains, then it will hibernate in and around Pacific Grove, California, in eucalyptus trees. Monarch butterflies use the very same trees each and every year when they migrate, which seems odd because they aren’t the same butterflies that were there last year. These are the new fourth generation of monarch butterflies, so how do they know which trees are the right ones to hibernate in? Monarch butterflies are the only insects that migrate to a warmer climate that is 2500 miles away.

Video Credits: Lafayette Regional School’s 4th Grade Class

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Written by Rob Nelson

Rob is an ecologist from the University of Hawaii. He is the co-creator and director of Untamed Science. His goal is to create videos and content that are entertaining, accurate, and educational. When he's not making science content, he races whitewater kayaks and works on Stone Age Man.

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