Queen Butterfly: All You Need to Know for a Colorful Encounter

The Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is a captivating species known for its rich chestnut or mahogany brown color. Closely related to the Monarch Butterfly, the Queen shares some similarities like the caterpillars of both species feeding on milkweed, making them poisonous to predators. Differences, such as the absence of black banding on the forewings, help to distinguish Queens from Monarchs [^1^].

Habitats suitable for Queen Butterflies often include fields, roadside areas, open spaces, wet areas, and urban gardens. These environments provide ample milkweed and flowering plants essential for the butterflies’ breeding and nutrition [^2^]. When planting milkweed to nurture Queen Butterflies, it is crucial to remember that the plant also supports various other species, offering a diverse and ecologically balanced landscape [^3^].

Queen Butterfly Basics

Scientific Classification

The Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) belongs to the family Nymphalidae and is part of the subfamily Danainae.

Physical Features

  • Wingspan: Approximately 2.75 to 3.5 inches
  • Coloration: Rich chestnut or mahogany brown with black borders and white spots

The Queen Butterfly is similar in appearance to the Monarch Butterfly, though they can be distinguished by their distinct coloration and lack of black banding on the forewings.

Distribution and Habitat

Queen Butterflies are commonly found in:

  • North America: Southern United States and Mexico
  • South America: Central and northern regions

Their habitat is mainly comprised of open areas, fields, and roadside areas where milkweed plants are available as a food source.

Life Cycle

The Queen Butterfly’s life cycle consists of four stages:

  1. Egg: Laid on milkweed plants, where they will hatch into caterpillars
  2. Caterpillar: Feeds on milkweed leaves, storing toxins that deter predators
  3. Pupa: Forms a chrysalis, where it will transform into an adult butterfly
  4. Adult: Emerges from the chrysalis and feeds on nectar from various flowers
Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Color Chestnut brown Bright orange
Markings White spots, black borders White spots, black borders and banding on forewings

While both Queen and Monarch butterflies share similarities in their diet and habitat preferences, they have distinct physical features that allow for easy identification.

Relationship with Monarch and Viceroy Butterflies

Similarities and Differences

Both the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) belong to the genus Danaus. Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus), on the other hand, belong to the genus Limenitis. Some key similarities and differences among these butterflies include:

Similarities:

  • Bright orange coloration on wings
  • Black veins and border markings

Differences:

  • Monarchs and Queens have white spots on black wing borders; Viceroys have a distinctive black line across the hindwing
  • Different genus: Danaus (Monarchs and Queens) vs. Limenitis (Viceroys)

Mimicry and Defense Mechanisms

Monarchs, Viceroys, and Queens all display Batesian mimicry, a form of mimicry in which a harmless species resembles a harmful species for protection against predators. Monarchs and Queens are toxic due to their consumption of milkweed plants during the larval stage, making them unpalatable to predators. Viceroys are not toxic; however, they mimic the appearance of Monarchs and Queens to deter predators.

Connections and Interactions

The connections among Monarchs, Viceroys, and Queens can be observed through their shared defense mechanisms. By mimicking each other’s appearances, these butterflies have formed an unintentional alliance against predators.

Butterfly Genus Toxic or Not Mimicry Type
Monarch Danaus Toxic Batesian Mimicry
Viceroy Limenitis Not Toxic Batesian Mimicry
Queen Danaus Toxic Batesian Mimicry

Feeding and Diet

Caterpillar Phase

During the caterpillar phase, Queen Butterfly larvae primarily feed on milkweed plants (genus Asclepias). These plants serve as the caterpillar’s host plant, providing essential nutrients and defensive compounds known as cardenolides. Some common milkweed species include:

  • Asclepias curassavica: Tropical Milkweed
  • Asclepias tuberosa: Butterfly Weed
  • Asclepias incarnata: Swamp Milkweed

The larvae benefit from consuming milkweed’s cardenolides as they become toxic to predators. Additionally, the bright coloration of the caterpillars serves as a warning sign to potential predators of their toxicity.

Adult Butterfly Phase

Adult Queen Butterflies have a more diverse diet, focusing on nectar from various flowering plants. Nectar provides the adult butterfly with the energy needed for reproduction and flight. Some nectar-rich flowers favored by Queen Butterflies include:

  • Lantana
  • Zinnia
  • Verbena
  • Goldenrod
Caterpillar Phase Adult Butterfly Phase
Feed on milkweed plants Feed on nectar from flowers
Consume cardenolides for defense Energy for reproduction and flight

Keep in mind that when creating a habitat for Queen Butterflies, it is essential to provide both milkweed for the caterpillars and nectar-producing plants for the adult butterflies. This will create a suitable environment that promotes the butterfly’s life cycle and population growth.

Reproduction and Mating Habits

Mating Process

Queen butterflies engage in a unique mating process. Males utilize hair-pencils (clusters of modified scent scales) near their abdomens to disperse pheromones. This attracts females for copulation. Male queens use their antenna to detect receptive females.

Eggs and Offspring

Once mating occurs, a female queen will lay its eggs on a host plant. Examples of host plants include milkweed and silkweed.

Egg stage:

  • Queen butterfly eggs are small and cream-colored.
  • They have a ridged surface.
  • Laid singly on host plant leaves.

Offspring development:

  • Eggs hatch into larvae within 3-5 days.
  • Larvae go through several growth stages, called instars.
  • Soon after, larvae transform into pupae.

In summary, the Queen butterfly reproductive process involves unique characteristics such as hair-pencils and host plants for egg-laying. Short mating process results in eggs and offspring with a rapid development time.

Common Features:

  • Hair-pencils in males
  • Antenna for female detection
  • Host plants for egg-laying

Queen Butterfly vs. Monarch Butterfly:

Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Hair-pencils Yes No
Antenna function Female detection General use
Host plants Milkweed, Silkweed Milkweed
Egg coloration Cream-colored Pale yellow

Threats and Conservation

Natural Predators

Queen butterflies, like other species, face threats from various natural predators. For instance, birds often prey on butterflies. One example of a bird species that eats butterflies is the Black-headed Grosbeak.

Human-Driven Factors

  • Endangered Status: While not currently listed as endangered, there are efforts to conserve queen butterflies and their habitats, just like the monarch butterfly, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Pesticides: The use of pesticides in agriculture is one human-driven factor that negatively impacts pollinators like queen butterflies. Exposure to pesticides can weaken their immune systems and hinder their reproduction.
  • Alkaloid Levels: Queen butterflies may indirectly face risks due to the plants they rely on for survival. Specifically, some plants, such as milkweed, contain toxic alkaloids, which could impact the butterflies feeding on them.
Factor Threat to Queen Butterfly Example
Endangered Status Moderate Monarch Butterfly
Pesticides High Agricultural applications
Alkaloid Levels Indirect Milkweed

Efforts to conserve queen butterflies and their habitats must address these threats through awareness and environmentally friendly practices.

Fun Facts and Additional Information

  • The Queen Butterfly is closely related to the Monarch Butterfly.
  • They belong to the milkweed butterfly family.

Queen and Monarch butterflies have similar appearances. They can be distinguished by a few differences:

  • Queens have lighter orange wings.
  • Their black wing veins are thinner.

Queens are also known for their fascinating behaviors:

  • They exhibit territorial behavior.
  • They are known to chase other butterflies away.

Food for both Queens and Monarchs:

  • Larvae feed on milkweed plants.
  • Adult butterflies drink nectar from flowers.

Queen butterflies share similar benefits and challenges with Monarchs:

Pros:

  • They help with pollination.
  • Their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem.

Cons:

  • They have a limited food source (milkweed).
  • They are vulnerable to habitat loss and pesticides.

Comparing Queen and Monarch butterflies:

Feature Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Color Light orange wings Bright orange wings
Wing Veins Thin black veins Thick black veins
Life Cycle Egg, larva, pupa, adult Egg, larva, pupa, adult
Food Milkweed (larvae), nectar (adults) Milkweed (larvae), nectar (adults)
Migration Non-migratory, mainly in the southern US Annual migration across North America

To sum up:

  • Queen butterflies are fascinating creatures with many fascinating facts and information.
  • They belong to the milkweed butterfly family and have a close relationship with Monarchs.

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 – Queen

 

Identification Please
Location: Tucson, AZ
December 22, 2010 4:52 pm
Dear Bugman,
I photographed these two insects and I need an identification. The first one is of a butterfly that I took in November. At first I thought it was a monarch but the top wing looked different to me. The second photo is of a insect on Mt. Lemmon, Tucson, and it was taken in July of last year. Thank you so much
Signature: -Harrison

Queen

Hi Harrison,
You were observant to notice the difference between a Monarch and your butterfly, the closely related Queen.  You can read more about the Queen,
Danaus gilippus, on BugGuide.

Letter 2 – Queen

 

Subject: Butterfly Survives Storm!
Location: Coryell County, Texas
September 17, 2013 6:49 pm
I was watching for the first rain in weeks this afternoon, when a sudden downpour hit. I dashed to the back porch to watch the rain and smell the freshness in the air. Lo and behold, I spotted an orange butterfly across the yard, trying to find shelter from the suddenly-pelting, huge raindrops. Oh, no, I thought the butterfly would never survive. It tried to shelter on one branch of a small crepe myrtle, then fluttered to a sturdier twig. Pounding rain and strong winds drove me indoors. I hoped the butterfly would make it, but the crepe myrtle was bending and thrashing in the wind. Twenty minutes later, the tap turned off as suddenly as it had begun. I grabbed the camera and crossed to the crepe myrtle in order to try to locate the butterfly. Amazingly, it was still clinging to its twig! It was drenched, and didn’t move an iota as I took some photos. I retreated to the porch to watch the butterfly from afar and see what would happen. Within 15 minutes, it began to fa n its wings, 3 or 4 slow beats, then resting a few minutes. This process went on for another 15 minutes or so. Next, the butterfly began to flutter and move around the shrub. I approached to take a few more photos, and off it flew, seemingly none the worse for wear. Amazing!
Is it a Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus?
Thank you!
Signature: Ellen

Queen
Queen

Hi Ellen,
It appears that because of the black scent scale patches on the hind wings, that this Queen is a male of the species.  Thank you for providing our readers with your thrilling account of a butterfly caught in a downpour.

Queen
Queen

 

Letter 3 – Queen and earlier, a Viceroy

 

Viceroy Maybe
I am having trouble identifying this butterfly. I think it is a Viceroy or a Queen but am unsure. I think I have ruled out that it is a Monarch. The red thorax would suggest it is a Queen – Danaus glippus but I really don’t know. Can you help ?
Thanks
Mark

Queen Viceroy


Hi Mark,
The image you sent today is of a Queen, and the image yesterday was a Viceroy. In Florida, many Viceroys mimic Queens instead of Monarchs. The distinguishing feature of a Viceroy is the narrow black band through the center of the hind wing.

Letter 4 – Queen Butterfly

 

Subject:  Queen
Location:  Riverside County, California
July 25, 2014 5:48 PM
dear what’s that bug?
i believe this to be a queen butterfly on a desert willow flower.
is this correct?
this was taken in riverside county, california.
thanks, clare.

Queen
Queen

Dear Clare,
Your butterfly is certainly a Queen, but we are not so sure about the desert willow.  In our memory, willow has flowers that are catkins, like pussy willows.  Unless desert willow is not a true willow, we do not believe the Queen is nectaring from a desert willow.  That stated, we decided to research and we learned at Las Pilitas Nursery website that Desert Willow,
Chilopsis linearis, is a native plant, but it does not provide the family name.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:  “Named for its resemblance to willows, this popular ornamental tree is actually related to catalpa trees, Yellowbells (Tecoma stans), and Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).”  The flower does remind us of catalpa flowers, which we grew up calling “Cigar Trees.”  According to the US Forest Service site:  “It is a member of the Bignoniaceae family, and is most closely related to the genus Catalpha Scop.”

thanks, daniel.
this is one of the problems with common names.
this tree was observed in its natural environment, some miles up the mountains at whitewater.
it is a chilopsis linearis and, yes, it is a member of the bignoniaceae family. it could be ssp arcuata.
the “chitalpa” is a cross between desert willow (chilopsis linearis) and the southern catalpa, which is the ornamental people call “desert willow”, which we see on the streets of los angeles.
c.

Letter 5 – Queen Butterfly from West Los Angeles

 

Subject: Queen Butterfly
Location: West Los Angeles
October 6, 2012 4:35 pm
Hi Bugman,
(This may be a duplicate submission).
Last year I sent in a picture of an unusual caterpillar which you identified as the Queen Butterfly Caterpillar (related to the Monarch). I was able to follow it and saw it chrysalize, but unfortunately, the Queen did not emerge. Well, it looks like the Queen has returned to our garden this year.
Jeff
Signature: Jeff Bremer

Queen

Hi Jeff,
We are thrilled to post your beautiful photos of a Queen, but we need to clarify that due to the black scent glands on the lower wings, this is a male Queen.  See this BugGuide image of a female Queen without the scent glands.  This is a wonderful followup to your Queen Caterpillar  photos from last year.  We are also very pleased that you were able to supply both an open and closed wing view of this lovely specimen.

Queen

 

Letter 6 – Queen Caterpillar

 

Monarch Caterpillar?
I have a lot of monarch caterpillars with 4 “spikes”, two front and back. I also have a few caterpillars with an extra set of spikes on the body. Are these monarchs too?
Thanks!
Bill in South Texas

Hi Bill,
The caterpillar in your photo is another member in the “Royal” Milkweed Butterfly genus that includes the Monarch. Your caterpillar belongs to the Queen, Danaus gilippus. There is one subspecies in Florida and the Mexican subspecies known as the Mexican Queen, Danaus gilippus strigosus, ignores the international border and strays north into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Unlike the Monarch, the Queen does not migrate.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts

3 thoughts on “Queen Butterfly: All You Need to Know for a Colorful Encounter”

  1. I found a bug or an insect in my house
    It is a cross between a flea, a cricket, and a wasp without wings. It is black and as hard as a rock to kill
    I have kept the remains for proper identification

    Reply
  2. I found a bug or an insect in my house
    It is a cross between a flea, a cricket, and a wasp without wings. It is black and as hard as a rock to kill
    I have kept the remains for proper identification

    Reply

Leave a Comment