Monarch Butterfly: Key Facts

Did you know migrating monarchs live longer than most other types of butterflies? Or that monarchs can be found throughout the world, not just in North America? Keep reading to learn more about these and other monarch butterfly key facts.

Quick Facts About Monarchs

Scientific Name:Danaus plexippus
Type of Animal:Insect: butterfly
Number of Species:1
Physical Description:Medium to large butterflies with orange wings, black stripes, and black bodies. Their eggs are cream-colored, oval-shaped, and pointed on top; their larvae have alternating stripes of white, black, and yellow; and their pupae are pale green and hang down vertically from their mount.
Distribution:Widely distributed throughout North and South America, parts of Europe, Australia, and the islands of the South Pacific.
Habitat:Monarchs require a warm habitat with plenty of milkweed for their larvae to eat. They can be found in open fields, wooded areas, roadsides, and near ponds or rivers, and they migrate to warmer locations in the winter.
Size:Wingspan of 3.5 to 4 inches in diameter.
Diet:– Larvae: milkweed leaves
– Butterflies: a variety of nectar flowers, including milkweed
Lifespan:As adult butterflies:
– Summer generations live up to 6 weeks.
– Migrating generations live much longer, up to 9 months.
Life Stages:– Egg
– Larvae (caterpillar)
– Pupa (chrysalis)
– Butterfly

What is a Monarch Butterfly?

A monarch is an iconic orange and black butterfly known for its yearly migration to the forested mountains of Mexico. Not all monarchs make this journey; only those found east of the Rocky Mountains in North America.

Monarchs are native to the American continents, but they have spread to other parts of the world as well. At some point in their past, they crossed the oceans and found their way to parts of Europe, Australia, and the South Pacific islands.

Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed plants. The eggs hatch out and the larvae feed on these plants, ingesting toxins found in their leaves which, in turn, make the caterpillars and adult butterflies toxic to many predators.

Adult monarchs pollinate milkweed plants and feed on a variety of other nectar flowers as well. They live on average from 2 to 6 weeks as adult butterflies, though the migrating generation each year lives for as long as 8 to 9 months. 

Check out this video to learn more about monarch butterflies:

What Butterfly Resembles a Monarch?

There are three other butterflies that look similar to monarchs and are often mistaken for them. These butterflies are:

  • Viceroys: Viceroy butterflies have almost the exact same colors and patterns as monarchs do. They have only two noticeable differences: they are slightly smaller than monarchs, and they have a dark band across their lower wings that monarchs don’t have.
  • Queens: Queen butterflies are slightly darker orange than monarchs, and the black band around the outer edges of their wings is more pronounced. They have a lot of white spots around the edges and black spots on their lower wings, similar to male monarchs, but they do not have the same distinctive dark lines that monarchs have.
  • Soldiers: Soldier butterflies look very similar to queen butterflies, except that the dark edges of their wings are less pronounced and they don’t have as many white spots. Like the queen, they are a darker orange than monarchs and lack the distinctive black lines on their wings.


Monarchs are found in many places throughout the world but are native to North and South America. The North American monarchs are known for their yearly migrations to the mountains of Mexico, where they live in huge clusters throughout the winter months.

You can also read our guides on how to hold a monarch butterfly, and on their predators. Don’t forget to read about other forest insects and butterflies – these are our popular guides about praying mantises, tiger swallowtails and wasps.

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