Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly, the only butterfly of the family Danaidae (order Lepidoptera) found in Canada.

Monarch Butterfly, Adult
An adult monarch butterfly emerges from the pupal skin. It takes 10 to 20 minutes for the wings to spread, dry and stiffen (photo by Bill Ivy).
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar
The unmistakable monarch caterpillar with its brilliant green colour and black and yellow stripes (photo by Bill Ivy).
Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis
The mature monarch larva hangs inverted from a suitable plant in the form of a lovely green chrysalis (the pupa) (photo by Bill Ivy).

Monarch Butterfly, the only butterfly of the family Danaidae (order Lepidoptera) found in Canada. Because of its migratory habits, it is possibly the best-known, most publicized migratory butterfly. Found in every province and territory, it is only numerous where the host plant milkweed (Asclepias spp.) grows. Its large size, orange and black coloration and slow, sailing flight make it a familiar butterfly of such areas.

Migration

The spring migration northwards into Canada is accomplished by the progressive advancement of individuals of successive generations. The legendary fall migration southwards is undertaken by adults of the final summer brood. Monarchs born W of the Rockies overwinter in California; those from central and eastern N America in central Mexico. After 40 years of research, the first Mexican wintering site was discovered in 1974 by Frederick Urquhart of U of T.

Predator Deterrent

All monarchs were originally thought to contain a poison absorbed from their caterpillars' host plant. Recent research on monarchs suggests that since only certain species of milkweed contain these deadly cardiac glycosides, butterflies originating from caterpillars reared on such nonpoisonous milkweeds, eg, common milkweed (A. syriaca) and showy milkweed (A. speciosa) are no longer thought toxic.

The bright coloration associated with the presence of toxic chemicals was said to protect the monarch from predation. Predators feeding on them would learn to associate the toxic effects of the chemicals and foul taste with the colour pattern, and in future would avoid them.


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Further Reading

  • F.A. Urquhart The Monarch Butterfly (1960); S.B. Malcolm and M.P. Zalucki, eds Biology and Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly (1993).

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