Tag Archives: Prince of Orange

What’s in a Name?

Ever wonder where the Monarch butterfly got its name?

Monarch nectaring on Tropical Milkweed

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), also known as Scarlet Milkweed, Bloodflower, and Mexican Butterfly Weed.

Apparently, the sight of the Monarch butterfly and its orange color impressed the early settlers, who came to North America from Holland and England. So, they named it “Monarch,” after King William III, Prince of Orange, state holder of Holland, and later named King of England, according to Monarch Watch.

King William

King William III, Prince of Orange, state holder of Holland, and later named King of England. • Portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, circa 1680s.

Another version, related by Rick Mikula in The Family Butterfly Book, surmises that the early colonists of North America thought that the gold rim around the chrysalis reminded them of the king’s crown so they named the butterfly “Monarch.”

Queen and Monarch Chrysalises

Was the Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly so named because it resembles a Monarch but is smaller? Queen (left) and Monarch chrysalises shown in side-by-side comparison.

The scientific name of the Monarch, Danaus plexippus, has another origin. Danaus, great-grandson of Zeus, was a mythical king in Egypt or Libya, who founded Argos. Plexippus was one of the 50 sons of Aegyptus and the twin brother of Danaus.

“In Homeric Greek, plexippos means ‘one who urges on horses,’ i.e.: ‘rider or charioteer.’ Linnaeus, who came up with the scientific name, wrote that the names of the Danai festivi, the division of the genus to which Papilio plexippus belonged, were derived from the sons of Aegyptus.” –Wikipedia

Monarch nectaring on Miss Huff Lantana

Autumn-migrating Monarch nectaring on ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’) in North Carolina, USA

Whatever the origin of its name, the Monarch butterfly truly is royalty!