Wild South Florida — Monarch Butterfly
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Monarch Butterfly
monarch butterfly  

Chances are if you can identify any butterfly at all, it's going to be a monarch. They're plentiful, and they're's easy to spot, with their bright orange wings and distinctive black veins. The monarch's scientific name is danaus plexippus, and it's one of several members of the danaus genus, all of which are similarly colored. And that's no accident. The larva of monarchs and their cousins dine on milkweeds, giving the adults the orange coloration that marks their kind. Eating milkweed also makes them poisonous to potential predators; the orange acts as a warning sign to stay away.

monarch butterfly

caterpiller   monarch chrysallis

Monarchs are known for their long migrations, from the northern U.S. and southern Canada to conifer forests in California and central Mexico .

The trip takes as many as four generations of monarchs to make the full cycle. Florida hosts a year-round population of monarchs, attracted by the warm weather and plentiful milkweed. But it also hosts migrating monarchs from the northeast. Scientists aren't sure whether Florida is a rest stop for these butterflies on their way to Mexico, or their destination to wait out the cold weather.

Monarch have been found in Australia and Great Britain as well as the Azores and Canary Islands. The monarch on the top right was photographed on Big Pine Key; the one on the top left at the Key West Botanical Gardens. Both are dining on the nectar of butterfly weed, asclepias tuberosa.

Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.