The Royal Butterflies

If you thought the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), was the only royal butterfly of North America you would be wrong. Another royal member, the Queen (Danaus gilippus) is a cousin to the Monarch and also adorns our gardens with its lovely orange wings.

Queen nectaring on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Just like the Monarch, the Queen uses Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) as a host plant for its caterpillars.

The Queen is chiefly a tropical species. In the United States, it’s usually confined to the southern regions. It’s quite common in Florida and southern Georgia, as well as in the southern parts of Texas, California, and other states bordering Mexico, including Arizona and New Mexico. Periodically, a stray may be found in the Midwest. Because of climate change, they may even stray farther north as time goes on.

The Queen’s favorite source of nectar is the flowers of Spanish Needle (Bidens pilosa). Other flowers they visit are Zinnias (Zinnia spp.), Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia spp.), and Lantanas (Lantana camara).

Queens and Monarchs are often mistaken for each other in their various life stages because of their resemblances. But if you look closely, it’s not that hard to tell the difference between Monarchs and Queens.

Newly eclosed Monarch and Queen butterflies. Notice how much darker orange the Queen is compared to the Monarch.

Like the Monarch, caterpillars of the Queen also feed on different species of Milkweeds. The larvae of the Queen butterfly have an extra set of filaments the soft horn-like structures on their topside. The Queen caterpillar, similar to the Monarch, has black, yellow, and white stripes, but the pattern varies.

The chrysalis of the Queen is identical to that of the Monarch, but is typically smaller. Also, sometimes has a pink hue.

 

 

The wings of the butterflies can be seen through the transparent pupal case shortly before eclosing.

Like male Monarchs, male Queens have a black spot on each hindwing. These black dots are pheromone scales. Although Monarch butterflies do not use pheromones during courtship and mating, Queen butterflies do use them.

The Queen has less prominent veins on its wings than the Monarch.

Although the Queen does not undertake dramatic migrations like the Monarch, will travel short-distances at tropical latitudes in areas that have a distinct dry season. During those periods, the Queens will fly from lowlands to higher elevations. (Krizek, Paul A. and Opler, George O. Butterflies: East of the Great Plains: An Illustrated Natural History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.)

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