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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0759) [REARED]
Wingspan
95 - 100mm
Photo © Pete Eeles
Monarch

Danaus plexippus
DAN-ee-us
PLEK-see-puss
Number: 59.001
B&F No.: 1630
Family:Nymphalidae (Swainson, 1827)
Subfamily:Danainae (Boisduval, 1833)
Tribe:Danaini (Boisduval, 1833)
Genus:Danaus (Kluk, 1780)
Subgenus: 
Species:plexippus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Rare Migrant
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  Introduction  

This species is the largest butterfly seen in the British Isles, and is also one of our rarest migrants. This butterfly is known for its ability to migrate across large distances. The migrations in north America are one of the greatest natural phenomena in the world - where the adult butterflies can migrate from as far north as Canada to the overwintering grounds in very specific sites in Mexico, the west coast of California and Florida. The first record of this species in the British Isles, by a schoolboy, was on 6th September 1876 in Neath in south Wales. Although initial records were thought to be the result of accidental transportation by ship, subsequent years, such as 1933 when 40 individuals were caught, meant that this theory was dismissed and that the most-likely cause was a genuine immigration.

The total number of records for the British Isles is less than 500. The most-recent major migration was in 1981 with 135 sightings. Many north American bird species were also recorded that year. However, there is still some question as to the true origin of this immigration since the species is also known from Madeira, southern Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands, which it reached in 1860 and survives using Asclepias curassavica as its foodplant.

The larva feeds on various Milkweeds (Asclepias species) which are not native to the British Isles, and this explains why the immature stages have not been found in the British Isles. However, in August 1981, a Monarch that had escaped from a nearby butterfly farm was seen to lay on Milkweeds in Kew Gardens. Some of the eggs were collected and reared indoors, where the first adult emerged just one month after the egg had been laid. This species is a rare migrant to the British Isles. Although there are records from many areas, sightings are concentrated in the south and west of both England and Ireland. There is a particular concentration in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

Danaus plexippus

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: North America).


Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0759) [REARED]
Male
Photo © Pete Eeles
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0753) [REARED]
Male Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 30-Sep-06 (0783) [REARED]
Female
Photo © Pete Eeles
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0758) [REARED]
Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

  Phenology  

Although sightings have been recorded from March to November in the British Isles, the peak is in September and October. These latter months correlate with the southward migration in north America and it is not unreasonable to believe that favourable winds have pushed some individuals across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, this spectacular insect is unable to survive our winter.


  Habitat  

Description to be completed

  Larval Foodplants  

The primary larval foodplant is Milkweeds (various) (Asclepias spp.).

  Nectar Sources  

Description to be completed

  Imago  

The male butterfly is distinguished from the female by having less prominent black markings to the veins and conspicuous sex brands on the upperside of the hindwings.


Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 04-Oct-04 (4) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
04-Oct-2004
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0753) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Sep-2006
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0756) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Sep-2006
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0758) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Sep-2006
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0759) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Sep-2006
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 30-Sep-06 (0783) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Sep-2006
Monarch - imago - Thatcham - 30-Sep-06 (0784) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Sep-2006
Monarch - imago - Dominican Republic - 18-Aug-05
Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Aug-2005
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (2)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (3)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (5)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (8)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (9)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (10)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (11)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (13)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (15)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - imago - Santa Cruz, California, USA - 07-Feb-09 (16)
Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Feb-2009
Monarch - Portland, Dorset  9-Sept-2012
Photo © Neil Hulme
09-Sep-2012

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

Unclassified Aberrations


Monarch - aberration - Unknown location - Unknown date (2) [REARED] [Nigel Venters]
Photo © Nigel Venters
Monarch - aberration - Unknown location - Unknown date (3) [REARED] [Donald Wilks]
Photo © Donald Wilks
Monarch - aberration - Unknown location - Unknown date [REARED] [Nigel Venters]
Photo © Nigel Venters
Monarch - f. nivosus - Margate - Bred [Don Wilkes]
Photo © Don Wilkes

  Ovum  

Eggs are laid singly on the foodplant and this stage lasts only 3 or 4 days.


Monarch - ovum - Dominican Republic - 18-Aug-05
Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Aug-2005
Monarch - ovum - Unknown location - Unknown date [REARED] [Brian Clegg]
Photo © Brian Clegg
Monarch - ovum2 [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
26-Dec-2008
Monarch - ovum [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich

  Larva  

The larva eats its eggshell on hatching before feeding on the leaves of the foodplant. The larvae are conspicuously marked, providing a warning to predators that the larva is poisonous, having built up toxins that it obtains from the foodplant. These poisons are passed on to the adult butterfly. Depending on temperature, this stage can be completed in as little as 16 days.


Monarch - larva - Unknown location - Unknown date (2) [Brian Clegg]
Photo © Brian Clegg
Monarch - larva - Unknown location - Unknown date [Brian Clegg]
Photo © Brian Clegg
Monarch - larva3 [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
28-Dec-2008
Monarch - larva4 [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
Monarch - larva5 [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
05-Jan-2009
Monarch - larva [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
28-Dec-2008
Monarch - larva2 [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
Monarch - larva - Stratford-upon-Avon - 13-Jun-10 (1) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Jun-2010
Monarch - larva - Stratford-upon-Avon - 13-Jun-10 (2) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Jun-2010
Monarch - larva - Stratford-upon-Avon - 13-Jun-10 (3) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Jun-2010
Monarch - larva - Thatcham - 20-Jul-14 [REARED]-3
Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2014
Monarch - larva - Thatcham - 20-Jul-14 [REARED]-4
Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2014
Monarch - larva - Thatcham - 20-Jul-14 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2014

  Pupa  

The pupa hangs head-down from a stem or leaf, attached by its cremaster. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.


Monarch - pupa - Thatcham - 06-Oct-04 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
06-Oct-2004
Monarch - pupa - Thatcham - 25-Sep-06 (0748) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Sep-2006
Monarch - pupa [William Zittrich]
Photo © William Zittrich
Monarch - pupa - Thatcham - 23-Jul-14 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
23-Jul-2014

  Similar Species  

No similar species found.

  Videos  

Video © DocuScience
The Incredible Story of the Monarch Butterfly: Four Wings and a Prayer
Video © Kim Smith
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Emerging from Chrysalis

  Sites  

No sites found.

  Conservation Status  

No conservation action is relevant for this species.

  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C.: Systema Naturae. Edn.10. 1758.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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