Monarch

Danaus plexippus


HOME
Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, April 2019

Danaus plexippus

Male, Málaga, April 2019 (note the sex brands on the hindwings)

Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, April 2019

Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, April 2019

Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, April 2019

Danaus plexippus

Male, Málaga, April 2019

Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, Februrary 2017

Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, February 2017

Danaus plexippus

Female, Málaga, February 2017

Danaus plexippus

Málaga, February 2017

Danaus plexippus

Gibraltar, July 1999

Danaus plexippus

Gibraltar, July 1999

Danaus plexippus caterpillar

Caterpillar, Papiliorama butterfly house in Switzerland, October 2015

Danaus plexippus caterpillar

Caterpillar, Papiliorama butterfly house in Switzerland, October 2014

Danaus plexippus caterpillar

Caterpillar, Papiliorama butterfly house in Switzerland, October 2014

Danaus plexippus distribution

Breeding distribution (also breeds in the Canaries)

The monarch is principally an American butterfly but it has spread all over the world. It now breeds in several places in Spain and Portugal and can be seen almost anywhere in the western Mediterranean. I saw my first European examples in Gibraltar in 1999, in the Trafalgar Cemetery. In April 2019, on a return visit, I saw one in the same place. For the last few years I have been seeing them in good numbers in Málaga, where they breed, and have also seen them on the north coast of Morocco. The map above represents the breeding distribution. Vagrant individuals may be spotted elsewhere in western Europe, including the UK. Some of these will be genuine migrants, from America or from southern European populations; others, doubtless, are deliberate or accidental escapes from butterfly farms and private breeders.

The only other species that remotely resembles the monarch is the plain tiger - the only other European representative of the Danainae. With a good view, however, the two cannot be confused. The monarch is huge, powerful - so powerful you are more likely to mistake it for a bird than another butterfly - and heavily striped along the veins. The plain tiger is smaller, less powerful in flight and lacking the stripes.

Monarch caterpillars feed on various plants of the family Apocynaceae, including milkweeds (an alternative English name for the species is the milkweed butterfly). These plants are toxic but the caterpillars have evolved to eat them without harm, and in turn become toxic themselves. This is passed on to the adults. Many other butterflies, toxic and non-toxic, related and quite unrelated, mimic the colours and patterns of the monarch to share in the protection from birds and other would-be predators this affords. Apparently, once a bird has tasted monarch it will not try it again!

In America, monarchs are famous for migrating south and hibernating in vast swarms in Mexico. In Spain, however, they are essentially sedentary and continuously brooded. In 2017 I found them flying in good numbers in mid-February.