Gulf Fritillary vs Monarch: A Colorful Butterfly Showdown

Gulf Fritillary and Monarch butterflies are two visually captivating species often found in North America. Their vibrant colors and distinctive patterns make them popular among butterfly enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Although they share some similarities, there are key differences that set them apart from one another.

The Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, is common across extreme southern parts of the United States. It can be found in a range of sunny habitats such as roadsides, fields, and parks. Monarch butterflies, on the other hand, are known for their epic migration journey,
which spans thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico each year.

Differences between these two species include their wing patterns and host plants. Gulf Fritillaries exhibit bright orange wings adorned with silver spots, while Monarchs have a striking pattern of black, orange, and white. Additionally, Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on milkweed plants, whereas Gulf Fritillary caterpillars mainly consume passionflower vines.

Identifying Features

Appearance and Markings

Gulf Fritillary:

Monarch Butterfly:

  • Color: Orange and black with white spots.
  • Recognizable pattern includes black veins on the forewings and black margins on the hindwings.

Wings and Size

Gulf Fritillary:

  • Slightly smaller wings than the Monarch.
  • Average wingspan: 2.5-3.5 inches.

Monarch Butterfly:

  • Wings are large and rounded.
  • Average wingspan: 3.7-4.1 inches.

Some differences in size and coloration are due to sexual dimorphism, particularly in the Monarch Butterfly.

Comparison Table

Feature Gulf Fritillary Monarch Butterfly
Color Orange with black markings Orange and black with white spots
Silver spots Present on hindwing’s underside Absent
Veins on forewing Less prominent Black and prominent
Hindwing margin No significant black margin Black margin with white spots
Wingspan 2.5-3.5 inches 3.7-4.1 inches

In conclusion, both the Gulf Fritillary and the Monarch Butterfly have distinct features that can easily be recognized through their colors, markings, and wing sizes. By familiarizing yourself with these characteristics, you can distinguish between these two captivating butterfly species.

Life Cycle and Habitat

Eggs and Caterpillars

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies have some differences in their early stages. Gulf Fritillary eggs are yellowish and laid on passion vines, while Monarch eggs are white and found on milkweeds.

  • Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars: Covered in black spines and orange skin, they feed on passion vines.
  • Monarch Caterpillars: Black, white, and yellow striped, they live on milkweed plants.

Chrysalis and Adult Butterfly

Both species form a chrysalis as they transition into adulthood. Gulf Fritillary chrysalises are brown with gold specks, and Monarch chrysalises are green with gold dots.

Adult Gulf Fritillary butterflies have bright orange wings with black veins. Monarch butterflies have orange wings too but with black-bordered white spots.

Host Plants and Diet

Here’s a comparison of their host plants and diet:

Gulf Fritillary Monarch
Host Plants Passion vines Milkweeds
Nectar Sources Lantana, violets Milkweed, other flowers

Gulf Fritillary prefers lantana and violets for nectar, while Monarch consumes nectar from milkweed and other flowers.

Both species are common in gardens across North America, particularly in Florida and Texas. They can be seen from spring to October, depending on location. Habitats include meadows, open areas, and gardens.

Similar Butterfly Species

Viceroy Butterfly

The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) is often mistaken for the Monarch due to its similar orange and black color pattern. However, the Viceroy can be distinguished by:

  • A black horizontal line across its hindwings
  • Slightly smaller size than the Monarch

The Viceroy’s defense mechanism is mimicry, imitating the Monarch’s appearance to avoid predation, as the Monarch is unpalatable due to its consumption of milkweed.

Queen Butterfly

The Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is another species that resembles the Monarch. Some key differences are:

  • Smaller wingspan (2.4 – 2.6 inches)
  • Presence of white spots on the hindwings

The Queen benefits from its similarity to the Monarch, deterring predators that associate the latter’s appearance with toxicity.

Soldier Butterfly

Closely related to the Queen, the Soldier Butterfly (Danaus eresimus) also exhibits coloration similar to the Monarch. Differences include:

  • Lighter orange coloration
  • Different arrangement of wing spots

This resemblance also provides the Soldier with a defense mechanism against predators, who avoid them due to the Monarch’s unpalatable nature.

Painted Lady

The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is a widespread butterfly species that can be confused with the Gulf Fritillary. Differences to note:

  • Darker, scalloped wing edges
  • Presence of eye-like spots on the underside of the hindwings

Unlike the Gulf Fritillary, the Painted Lady does not have spines on its caterpillar stage and is less toxic to predators.

Others

There are other species that share similarities with the Gulf Fritillary and Monarch butterflies, such as the Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) and the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). These species can be differentiated through wing patterns, size, and habitat preferences. For example, the Great Spangled Fritillary is found in meadows and grasslands, while the Red Admiral prefers woodland edges and gardens.

Conservation and Interaction

Endangered Status

Monarch butterflies face several threats that have significantly decreased their populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has found that listing the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted but precluded due to work on higher-priority listing actions. Examples of these threats include:

  • Loss of breeding habitat
  • Loss of overwintering habitat
  • Changes in weather patterns

Gulf Fritillary butterflies, though not as well-studied as monarchs, have a stable population and are not currently at risk.

Butterfly Endangered Status
Monarch Butterfly Warranted but precluded
Gulf Fritillary Not endangered, stable population

Nature Enthusiasts

Both monarch and gulf fritillary butterflies are an attraction for nature lovers due to their vibrant colors and fascinating lifecycle. As monarch populations dwindle, it’s increasingly important for people who appreciate these beautiful creatures to help in conservation efforts. Here are some ways to support both species:

  • Plant native milkweed: Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed to lay their eggs and to provide food for their caterpillars.
  • Create a butterfly garden: Planting various nectar-producing plants will help attract and support both monarchs and gulf fritillaries.
  • Document sightings: Contribute to citizen science projects by reporting sightings of these butterflies, helping researchers track their populations.

In conclusion, the Monarch butterfly is facing many challenges and is considered a candidate for the Endangered Species Act, while the Gulf Fritillary butterfly is currently stable. Both species can be supported by nature enthusiasts through various conservation efforts.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Caterpillar and Chrysalis of Indian Fritillary in Japan

 

Subject: Unidentified crawling object
Location: Tokyo, Japan
July 30, 2012 8:37 pm
Hi Mr.bugman,
My daughter and I found this Caterpillar on my slippers. We liked it so much we decided to keep it. After much research on what type of spices it was we came up with nothing. As of only one day with us I believe it has either started to build its cocoon or molt? I’m not sure. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you so much
Signature: Shane and Hayden Silva

Caterpillar of Indian Fritillary

Dear Shane and Hayden,
This is the caterpillar and chrysalis of the Australian Fritillary,
Argyreus hyperbius, but the path that took us to that discovery was a bit convoluted.  We first recognized that the correct family is Nymphalidae, the Brush Footed Butterflies, but our searching of caterpillars from Japan did not prove fruitful.  We decided to see if we could at least determine the butterfly species from that family that are found in Japan and we were led to this FlickR page of Nymphalidae in Japan, and upon checking the species one by one by combining the scientific name and caterpillar in the search engine, we eventually found this photo of your caterpillar on Thaibugs.  The entire life cycle is depicted on the Butterfly House website where it is called the Australian Fritillary, but the image of the caterpillar is very contrasty and the colors do not show very wellLearn About Butterflies calls this the Indian Fritillary and we have a nice photo of an adult female Indian Fritillary from Japanin our own archives.

Chrysalis of Indian Fritillary

 

Letter 2 – Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

 

Dear Whatsthatbug:
Is it possible that the squeaky wheel might get the grease? We emailed a week or so ago and we are still dying to find out what in the world this is! We know it is some type of pupa, chrysalis, cocoon, but of WHAT? It was about 1 inch long (maybe a little longer) attached to the concrete side of a covered bridge in South Central PA. The most intriguing thing about it to us, is the fact that it was as hard and shiny as the chrome on my husband’s Harley. So give us an idea….what IS this thing?
Signed,
Squeaky and curious

Ed. Note: We were dragging our feet on this one, and Squeeky found the answer.

I thought you might be interested in another response I got while waiting for yours. This guy seems to think that this is a variegated fritillary pupa, which when I looked it up seems to be more of a fit. The caterpillars look very similar. Here is a photo I found of it on the web. http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/johnson/hort/Butterfly/images/VarFrit04.jpg Thank you for your help! I’ve never been much of a bug enthusiast, but since finding your site, have really taken a keen interest in this!
Julie

Letter 3 – Gulf Fritillary Chrysalis

 

What kind of caterpillar made this chrysalis?
March 24, 2010
This picture was taken today 3/24/2010. It was just a caterpillar yesterday, but today it is a chrysalis. The caterpillar was primarily gray and brown with tufts
Rob Abshear
Pompano Beach, FL

Gulf Fritillary Chrysalis

Dear Rob,
This is the chrysalis of a Gulf Fritillary.  The caterpillars feed on passionflower vine leaves, and the butterflies are a lovely orange color.  Compare your image to this photo on BugGuide.

Letter 4 – Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

 

Pupae in Graveyard
Location:  Lancaster, PA
September 20, 2010 6:33 pm
We found a couple of these gorgeous pupae attached to grave stones. The photos were taken in mid September. I was hoping you could help with identification.
Signature:  Jen

Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

Dear Jen,
Your pupa is the chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary.  Because the caterpillars feed on a large variety of plants, they are a wide ranging species in open fields and along roadsides.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Passionvine (Passiflora), Violets & Pansy (Viola, Flax Linum, Moonseed (Menispermum), Mayapple (Podophyllum), Stonecrop (Sedum), Purslane (Portulaca) and others. Adults are fond of flowers, and especially seem to like Thistles and yellow Composites. They also frequently visit damp ground.

Letter 5 – Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

 

What is this pretty bug?
Location: Connellsville Pa
August 9, 2011 11:07 am
Hi there.My Father in law is always finding bugs for me to ID.However this one I can not ID.It kinda looked like a swallowtail caterpillar, but was hard.Notice the gold nubs on the bottom.It was hanging on the back of a board in his yard.Like I said it was rock hard.He laid it on the picnic table on his porch and the next day it was gone.He has a huge garden there.I am so intrigued by it.So pretty!
Signature: Michelle Sechrist

Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

Hi Michelle,
This is the chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary, and this photo from BugGuide shows its natural state.  Detaching a Chrysalis from its perch can sometimes compromise the life expectancy of the pupal form of a butterfly and it is safer to cut and detach the stem from the plant.  Since the Chrysalis was left of the picnic table and later vanished, it would be fair to surmise that it became food for some predator, most likely a bird.  Here is a photo from our archives of an adult Variegated Fritillary.

Thank you so much. I was very upset with him for moving it .Then when I found out the next day that he left it there I was even more upset.Iadore butterflies.In fact my kitchen is adorned in them.I told him never to move them again.He did feel bad though.Again, thank you for your help.Bugs are so awesome.I LOVE your site and will be viewing the bugs now for a while.Who knew there were so many!!!

Letter 6 – Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary

 

Identification of shell
Location: Northeast Ohio
November 30, 2011 1:21 am
Greetings,
Any idea what butterfly or moth this shell belonged to?
Signature: Devon

Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

Hi Devon,
This is the Chrysalis of the Variegated Fritillary,
Euptoieta claudia, and you can see a photo from BugGuide to verify our identification.  The adult is a wide ranging lovely orange butterfly.  The name “chrysalis” can be traced to the Greek word for “gold” and this lovely Chrysalis is an excellent example of the gold coloration that is found in so many butterfly pupae.

Letter 7 – Gulf Fritillary Chrysalis

 

Swaying Gulf Fritillary Cocoon
Location: Orlando, Florida
May 7, 2012 3:04 pm
Hi Bugman. My husband and I have several gulf frit cocoons which have recently formed. We noticed they are swaying from side to side occasionally and very slowly. One just emerged and it was severely malformed so we conducted a mercy killing. It was very disappointing for us since we’ve been waiting to have successful frits after recently eradicating the melt virus from our vines. Is the swaying movement normal?
Thank you.
Signature: Elizabeth

Gulf Fritillary Chrysalis

Hi Elizabeth,
Though the chrysalis is considered to be a dormant stage of metamorphosis, many pupae are quite active, wriggling and moving about.  We don’t think the swaying you describe is abnormal.  We aren’t certain why a recently emerged Gulf Fritillary was malformed, however, we just posted a letter regarding deformed Anise Swallowtails.  We wonder perhaps if being handled by humans might be damaging the chrysalides.

Thank you, Daniel.  We have had three lovely butterflies emerge since the first tragedy.  We are always careful not to touch cocoons for fear of harming them.  Looking forward to the final butterfly emerging any day now.
Thanks again,
Elizabeth

Thanks for the update Elizabeth.

Letter 8 – Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary

 

Subject: Weird Caterpillar?
Location: Virginia
September 21, 2013 4:03 pm
Hi,
Me and my friend found this what we think is a caterpillar. I have done so much research and can not seem to figure out what is it. Please help!
Signature: Thank you, Erica

Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary
Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary

Hi Erica,
This looks to us like the Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary,
Euptoieta claudia, and it should eventually produce a lovely orange and black adult Variegated Fritillary.  The chrysalis is a dormant state in the metamorphosis of a butterfly.  The mobile caterpillar feeds, and when it has reached the proper size and age, it molts into a stationary chrysalis where it rests until the adult butterfly emerges.

Letter 9 – Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

 

Subject: chrysalis
Location: southern Pennsylvania rural
September 12, 2016 1:31 pm
This chrysalis is hanging above my garage— can you identify it? Thank you !
Signature: Jennifer T

Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis
Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

Dear Jennifer,
This chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary,
Euptoieta claudia, is positively gorgeous.  According to BugGuide, the butterfly is sometimes called the Hortensia and “Larvae feed on Violets & Pansy (Viola), Flax (Linum), Passion Vine (Passiflora), Damiana (Turnera), Moonseed (Menispermum), Mayapple (Podophyllum), Stonecrop (Sedum), Purslane (Portulaca) and others. Adults are fond of flowers, and especially seem to like Thistles and yellow Composites. They also frequently visit damp ground.”

Letter 10 – Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary

 

Subject:  What moth/butterfly does this chrysalis belong to?
Geographic location of the bug:  Baltimore Maryland
Date: 10/11/2017
Time: 04:15 PM EDT
Hello this chrysalis has been hanging from one of the main entrance doors to our school here in Baltimore Maryland.  It is fascinating!  What is it?  Thank you in advance for your time and reply.
How you want your letter signed:  Nathan Glenn

Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary

Dear Nathan,
This beautiful chrysalis is that of a Variegated Fritillary,
Euptoieta claudia, which you may verify by comparing it to this BugGuide image.

Letter 11 – Chrysalis of a Variegated Fritillary

 

Subject:  Gold spiked chrysalis
Geographic location of the bug: n South Central Va
Date: 06/18/2018
Time: 06:08 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello,
Thank you for all of your hard work over the years, I’ve found you again after some time.
I really just want to share with you my photos, it might be something you’ll appreciate.
How you want your letter signed:  From Juicy – Steady as she goes

Variegated Fritillary Chrysalis

Dear Juicy-Steady as she goes,
This beautiful chrysalis is that of a Variegated Fritillary.

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

12 thoughts on “Gulf Fritillary vs Monarch: A Colorful Butterfly Showdown”

  1. Thank you for this post! I found one of these caterpillars in Central Japan (Nagoya) and had trouble identifying it until I came across this very helpful blog post. Thanks again for the help! I would have liked to take it home, since it was wandering on a wall (quite far from any foliage) and probably ready to pupate.

    Reply
  2. I live in Waldorf MD. I notice one yesterday attached to my recycle bin.
    I am going to follow it’s metamorphosis
    I wish I could send you a pic,

    Reply
  3. I live in Waldorf MD. I notice one yesterday attached to my recycle bin.
    I am going to follow it’s metamorphosis
    I wish I could send you a pic,

    Reply
  4. I live in Iwakuni Japan and have one in my pansy flower pot. I let the caterpillar grow and eat the pot of pansies now it is a cocoon. I have been taking pictures. Please tell me how long in the cocoon before it emerges butterfly?!

    Reply
    • The average time a butterfly spends in the chrysalis stage is about two weeks, depending upon temperature and other weather conditions.

      Reply

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