Large butterfly with a wingspan up to 4-7/8 inches. The male is bright orange with wide black borders and veins and a small black scent patch on the inner margin of the upperside of the hindwing. The underside of the hindwing is paler yellowish-orange with a double row of prominent white spots in the black border. The female is duller orange with wider black veins and no scent patch. The caterpillar has yellow, black and white bands, a whitish head with black stripes, and two long, fleshy filaments on both the front and the rear. The chrysalis is green, with fine black lines, gold markings, and a black and gold band near the top.
Widespread in North America, West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and South America; also present in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Distribution and Abundance in Florida:
Monarchs are strong fliers; most eastern populations overwinter in coniferous forest regions of central Mexico, but some overwinter in North Florida and the Panhandle. Adults and caterpillars are present all year in Central and South Florida. Populations overwintering in Mexico mate and then begin to fly north in March, breeding along the way; the second and third generations repopulate their summer ranges.
Many upland and wetland habitats, especially marshes, prairies and open, disturbed sites.
Four or more generations per year; two or more broods per year in Florida. The courting males grasp females in the air and bring them to the ground to mate. The cream-colored eggs are laid singly on the leaves or flower buds of the host plants. The entire life cycle may be completed in 30 days.
The caterpillars concentrate toxic chemicals in their bodies from the plants they feed on; they and the adults are unpalatable to some predators, especially birds.
Caterpillars feed on the leaves and flowers of host plants. Native larval host plants include the cultivated wildflowers butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata), green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Other native host plants include the wildflowers Curtiss' milkweed (Asclepias curtissii), longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia), pinewoods milkweed (Asclepias humistrata) and velvetleaf milkweed (Asclepias tomentosa) and the vine whitevine (Funastrum clausum). The nonnative scarlet milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) and giant milkweed (Calotropis procera) also are larval host plants. Native nectar plants include all plants in the genus Asclepias, the shrub saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), the wildflower seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), and the vine climbing aster (Symphyotrichum carolinianum). Weedy native nectar plants include Spanish-needles (Bidens alba var. radiata).