Queen Butterfly Life Cycle: A Comprehensive Guide for Enthusiasts

The queen butterfly, a fascinating creature, undergoes a captivating life cycle similar to other butterfly species. This complex process, known as complete metamorphosis, encompasses four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. This intricate transformation ensures the continuation of their population and contributes to the beauty and diversity of our natural world.

Each stage of the queen butterfly’s life cycle features unique characteristics and purposes. For instance, the female butterfly begins by depositing her delicate eggs on host plants, providing essential nutrients for the upcoming larvae. As the eggs hatch, the emerging larvae, or caterpillars, feed on these plants, growing rapidly throughout their journey towards becoming pupae.

Upon transitioning into the pupal stage, the queen butterfly takes shelter inside a chrysalis, a protective casing that encases the developing butterfly. During this time, the transformation into adulthood takes place, leading to the emergence of a stunning adult butterfly. The adult queen butterfly can then search for a mate and continue the cycle, ensuring the survival and propagation of their species.

Queen Butterfly Overview

The Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is a fascinating species belonging to the Nymphalidae family and Danaus genus. It boasts a widespread distribution across various regions, including North America, Central America, Peninsular Florida, the southern United States, and the West Indies.

Some of their preferred habitats include fields and deserts, with a notable adaptability to different environments. Here are a few key features:

  • Species: Queen Butterfly
  • Scientific name: Danaus gilippus
  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Danaus
  • Distribution: North America, Central America, Peninsular Florida, Southern United States, West Indies

One notable similarity of the Queen Butterfly to the Monarch Butterfly is their choice of milkweed as a primary food source for their caterpillars. In fact, both species possess toxic properties due to their milkweed consumption, which deters predators.

Here’s a quick comparison table to outline some differences between the Queen and Monarch Butterflies:

Feature Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Color Rich chestnut or mahogany brown Bright orange
Wing Markings No black banding on forewings, small white spots Black banding and white spots
Toxicity Acquire toxic compounds from milkweed consumption Acquire toxic compounds from milkweed consumption

Overall, the Queen Butterfly showcases an impressive adaptability to different environments and a unique relationship with milkweed, much like its Monarch Butterfly cousin.

Life Cycle of Queen Butterfly


The life cycle of the Queen Butterfly begins with the female laying tiny, cream-colored eggs on the milkweed plant. The eggs typically hatch within a few days, and the newborn caterpillars emerge to start feeding on the milkweed leaves.


Once the eggs hatch, the larval stage, known as the caterpillar, emerges. These caterpillars feed voraciously on milkweed, growing rapidly and undergoing a series of molts. During each molting, they shed their old skin and reveal a larger one underneath, allowing them to grow bigger. Caterpillars generally pass through 5 growth stages, called instars.

Characteristics of Queen Butterfly Caterpillars:

  • Striped pattern (white, yellow, and black)
  • Two pairs of tentacle-like black filaments
  • Feed mainly on milkweed plants


Upon reaching their final instar, the Queen Butterfly caterpillars undergo a dramatic transformation known as complete metamorphosis. They form a protective outer shell called a chrysalis and start the process of becoming an adult butterfly.

Features of Queen Butterfly Chrysalis:

  • Green color with gold dots
  • Hangs upside down from a silk pad
  • Takes about 10 to 14 days for transformation

Adult Butterfly

After the metamorphosis is complete, the adult Queen Butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. The adult butterflies mainly feed on nectar from various flowers. Males and females have slightly different wing patterns and coloration.

Distinguishing Males and Females:

  • Males have smaller and more rounded wings
  • Females have larger and more elongated wings

Adult Queen Butterflies perform various tasks such as nectar-feeding, mate-finding, and egg-laying before starting the life cycle again.

Physical Characteristics

The Queen butterfly boasts a range of distinct features that set it apart from other butterflies.

  • Wingspan: This butterfly has a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.5 inches, making it moderately-sized in comparison to others in the butterfly world.
  • Wings: Its forewings have a primarily orange shade, while hind wings are darker in color.

The patterns on the wings draw attention with their striking design.

  • Veins: Both forewings and hind wings are adorned with distinctive dark veins running throughout the wing’s surface.
  • White spots: Along with the veins, white spots can be found on the wings, adding to the intricate patterns that characterize the Queen butterfly.
  • Black: Apart from veins and white spots, the wings also display black borders. These borders frame the wings and add contrast to the overall appearance.

To give a clearer idea of how the Queen butterfly compares to its close cousin, the Monarch butterfly, here is a comparison table highlighting their specific features:

Feature Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Wingspan 2.5 to 3.5 inches 3.5 to 4 inches
Wing color Orange (forewings) Orange (forewings)
Darker (hind wings) Black (hind wings)
Veins Prominent black veins Prominent black veins
White spots Present on wings Present on wings
Black border Present around wings Present around wings

Essential Plant Relationships

Queen butterflies, just like their Monarch cousins, have a close relationship with milkweed plants. Milkweed is a crucial host plant for Queen butterflies, as it is the sole food source for their caterpillars. There are several milkweed species that serve as host plants for Queen butterflies, each providing unique benefits.

  • Milkweed Species:
    • Asclepias curassavica: Also known as tropical milkweed, it grows easily and attracts both Monarch and Queen butterflies.
    • Asclepias tuberosa: Commonly called butterfly weed, it features bright orange flowers and acts as a host plant for Queen butterflies.

The relationship between Queen butterflies and milkweed plants is mutually beneficial. The butterflies lay eggs on milkweed leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch, they feed on the toxic plants. These toxins provide the caterpillars, and eventually the adult butterflies, with a defense mechanism against predators.

Host Plant Benefit for Caterpillar Benefit for Adult Butterfly
Asclepias curassavica Abundant food source, protection from predators Nectar source, attractive for egg-laying
Asclepias tuberosa Sufficient food source, protection from predators Nectar source, good for egg-laying

Properly maintaining host plants is essential for the survival of Queen butterflies. It’s vital to plant various milkweed species to ensure a continuous food supply and preserve the Queen butterfly population. Additionally, providing a pesticide-free environment will allow the caterpillars to thrive and eventually transform into beautiful adult butterflies.

Classification and Relatives

The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) belongs to the order Lepidoptera and the family Nymphalidae. It shares this classification with other well-known butterflies, like the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and the Soldier butterfly (Danaus eresimus).

Some key features of Queen butterflies include:

  • Bright orange coloration
  • Black markings on wings
  • Two pairs of black-tipped antennae

A closely related species is the Viceroy butterfly, which, although not in the same genus (Danaus), resembles the Monarch and the Queen in appearance, and has evolved Müllerian mimicry to protect itself from predators.

Here is a comparison table of the Queen, Monarch, Soldier, and Viceroy butterflies:

Butterfly Genus Similarities Differences
Queen (Danaus gilippus) Danaus Orange color, black markings Smaller size, different wing pattern
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) Danaus Orange color, black markings Larger size, different wing pattern
Soldier (Danaus eresimus) Danaus Orange color, black markings Different wing pattern, subtropical distribution
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) Limenitis Mimics Monarch’s appearance Not in Danaus genus, different wing pattern

As part of the Danaus genus, Queen butterflies have a particular association with milkweed plants. They lay their eggs on milkweed and, as caterpillars, feed on its leaves. This relationship provides protection, as the milkweed’s toxic compounds make both the caterpillars and the adult butterflies unpalatable to predators.

Predators and Threats

Queen butterflies, like many other butterflies, face various predators and threats throughout their life cycle. Some of the most common predators that can endanger queen butterflies include:

  • Birds
  • Bees
  • Beetles

Birds are often the main predators of queen butterflies, as they target both the caterpillars and adult butterflies. They can easily spot these creatures and consume them as a food source.

Bees, though not direct predators of butterflies, can pose a threat by competing for nectar resources. This competition can lead to a reduced food source for the queen butterfly, ultimately affecting its survival.

Beetles, on the other hand, can be a direct threat to the caterpillars. They often prey on the larvae, reducing the population of queen butterflies in the process.

In addition to predators, queen butterflies are also threatened by habitat loss and exposure to pesticides. These factors can lead to a decline in their population.

Here is a comparison table for the predators of the queen butterfly:

Predator Threat Type Target Stage
Birds Direct predation Caterpillar & Adult Butterfly
Bees Resource competition Adult Butterfly (nectar)
Beetles Direct predation Caterpillar

Understanding these threats can help in the development of effective conservation efforts for the queen butterfly.

Similar Species

The Queen butterfly is often compared to other species such as the Monarch, Viceroy, Black Swallowtail, and Soldier butterfly. These butterflies have distinct features, but can be confusing for casual observers.

Monarch and Queen

  • Queen butterflies are a rich chestnut or mahogany brown, while Monarchs are bright orange.
  • Queens lack the black banding on the forewings that Monarchs have.


  • Viceroy butterflies closely resemble Monarchs, but have a black line across the hindwings, which Monarchs do not.

Black Swallowtail

  • Black Swallowtails are predominantly black with yellow spots along the wings’ edges, and blue and red markings on the hindwings.

Soldier Butterfly

  • Soldier butterflies are similar in appearance to Queens, but have a more orange hue and prominent white spots on the hindwings.
Species Color Key feature
Queen Chestnut/mahogany Black banding absent on the forewings
Monarch Bright orange Prominent black banding on the forewings
Viceroy Orange-brown Black line across the hindwings
Black Swallowtail Black, yellow spots Blue and red markings on the hindwings
Soldier Orange hue Prominent white spots on the hindwings

In conclusion, although these butterflies may appear similar at first glance, closer examination reveals their unique characteristics that differentiate them from the Queen butterfly.

Interaction with Humans

Queen butterflies, like their close relative the monarch butterfly, often fascinate humans due to their beauty and intriguing life cycle. They can be found in various exhibits and educational materials.

For instance, you may encounter a queen butterfly exhibit at a local butterfly garden or conservatory. These exhibits aim to:

  • Educate visitors about the butterfly’s life cycle and habitat
  • Raise awareness about conservation efforts
  • Provide a captivating and hands-on experience for visitors

A poster featuring queen butterflies could be an excellent educational tool in classrooms or nature centers. Such posters typically display:

  • Stunning images of the butterflies at various life stages
  • Interesting facts about their development, diet, and behavior
  • The relationship between queen butterflies and their host plants

In some cases, humans try to attract queen butterflies to their gardens. Adding specific plants, such as milkweed, can help create a suitable environment for the butterflies to lay eggs and complete their life cycle.

While these interactions with humans are generally positive for raising awareness and admiration for queen butterflies, it is important to remember that capturing or disturbing them in their natural habitat can have negative consequences for their population and overall ecosystem health.

Drawing attention to the life cycles and conservation efforts of species like the queen butterfly helps to highlight the importance of protecting diverse ecosystems and maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

Conservation and Environment

Queen butterflies thrive in environments that provide suitable habitats. These habitats mainly include open areas and pastures, where they can access the plants they require for sustenance and reproduction. In particular, these butterflies have a strong preference for milkweed plants, which serve as both a source of nectar and a host for their larvae.

Many regions, such as Florida, have launched conservation efforts to preserve queen butterfly habitats. These initiatives focus on protecting and restoring natural environments that are conducive to the butterfly’s life cycle, as well as planting milkweed in gardens and parks to provide a steady food source for the adult butterflies and their offspring.

  • Example: Florida’s Monarch Butterfly Habitats program encourages residents to plant native milkweeds and nectar-providing plants in their own gardens to support the queen butterfly population.

Queen butterflies share some similarities with monarch butterflies, such as their connection to milkweed plants and physical appearance. However, they differ in terms of their geographical range, migration patterns, and breeding season.

Feature Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Geographical Range Mainly Southern United States, Central and South America North and South America, Europe, Australia and some Pacific Islands
Migration Patterns Limited seasonal migration Long, yearly migration
Breeding Season Multiple generations per year Fewer generations per year

A healthy environment for queen butterflies is crucial for sustaining their populations. Conserving habitats, planting milkweeds, and raising awareness of the importance of butterflies in the environment are essential steps to ensure their survival.

Additional Resources

To further explore the life cycle of the queen butterfly, consider the following resources:

  • The Smithsonian Gardens provides valuable insights on butterfly gardening, promoting healthy butterfly habitat, and conservation.

  • The Florida Museum offers a downloadable Butterfly Life Cycle PDF that includes information on the different stages of a butterfly’s life, along with an engaging activity for kids.

  • The US Forest Service details the intriguing migration and overwintering habits of monarch butterflies, which can be compared to queen butterflies.

Some features to keep in mind when learning about queen butterflies:

  • Unique wing patterns
  • Four life cycle stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult

Characteristics of queen butterflies:

  • Primarily found in North and Central America
  • Host plant: milkweed

Pros and cons of cultivating butterfly habitats:


  • Supports butterfly populations
  • Promotes pollination and biodiversity
  • Enhances garden aesthetics


  • Potential damage to plants from caterpillars
  • Some butterflies have specific host plant requirements

Here’s a comparison table of queen and monarch butterfly characteristics:

Feature Queen Butterfly Monarch Butterfly
Wing pattern Dark brown with white spots Orange with black veins
Host plant Milkweed Milkweed
Range North and Central America North America, Central America

The resources and information provided should help you better understand the fascinating life cycle and characteristics of queen butterflies.

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 Chrysalis


Chrysalis ID
Hi Bugman, I’m hoping you can ID this chrysalis which several docents found on the grounds of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, on 9/19/08. It was hanging on a Totem Pole Cactus. We’re thinking it may be that of a Queen butterfly, which are common at the Museum this time of year.
Tuscon, Arizona

Queen Chrysalis
Queen Chrysalis

Hi Carole,
We believe you are correct with the Queen Chrysalis identification. If this is not the Queen, Danaus gilippus, it is another member of the genus which includes the Monarch.

Letter 2 – Male Queen Butterfly


Subject: Male Queen Butterfly?
Location: Coryell County, Texas
August 16, 2014 11:27 am
Hello, I hand-watered our very dry lawn this morning, and immediately some butterflies came to drink. Is this a male Queen butterfly?
You kindly identified one for me last September. That one had survived a drenching downpour.
I darkened the exposure a bit. Thank you!
Signature: Ellen

Queen Butterfly
Queen Butterfly

Hi again Ellen,
You have correctly identified the sex of this Milkweed Butterfly by the scent patch on the male’s hind wings.  We wanted to confirm that this was in fact a Queen, so we checked BugGuide which indicates the difference between the Queen and the Soldier as being that the Soldier has:  “Ventral, black veins on both FW and HW, Queen only has black veins on HW. Soldiers are the only one in the genus that has pale squarish spots forming a concentric postmedian band.”  The ventral wing surface view does not have strong, black veins on the forewing, indicating this is a Queen.



Letter 3 – Queen Caterpillar


Mutant Monarch Caterpillar?
Location: West Los Angeles
November 14, 2011 12:06 pm
Hi Bugman,
We’ve had dozens of Monarch caterpillars this year (best year in a long time). Their colors varied somewhat, but all had rings of colors the length of their bodies.
The caterpillar pictured was found on a milkweed plant, but wasn’t interested in eating. It also did not appear large enough to begin chrysalizing (is this a word?).
As you can see, it does not have rings, but spots, and an additional set of ”false” antennae near the middle of its body.
So is this a Monarch caterpillar or something else?
Thx, Jeff
Signature: Jeff Bremer

Queen Caterpillar

Hi Jeff,
This is noteworthy for Los Angeles.  What exciting photographs to post, especially since they are from Los Angeles.  There are several other Milkweed Butterflies in the Monarch genus
Danaus, and this is another member of the royal family.  We believe this is the Queen Caterpillar, a species reported from California according to BugGuide.  Your individual is darker than the images posted to BugGuideQueens are darker than Monarchs.

Queen Caterpillar

  On a side note, we are formulating written responses to interview questions for a Russian magazine, F5.  One of the questions we have been struggling with is 15.  After having studied bugs for so long, have you learned anything important from them?  And the answer is:  “Yes I have.  I have learned that we are all individuals.  Just as no two people look alike, no two insects look exactly alike, but some are very similar.  I learned this after seeing a photograph of a Queen Caterpillar that was much darker than photos of Queen Caterpillars I found on legitimate websites like BugGuide.  I have learned that even if I have difficulty telling two insect species apart, insects have no trouble recognizing their own species.  Species are just close to one another on the evolutionary scale, and they differentiated due to global distribution.  When you cut off a gene pool, it differentiates from disparate groups and eventually it forms a race, that if they cease to intermingle, might evolve to a point where they can no longer reproduce together.”

Queen Caterpillar

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for your reply – I’m hoping to see a Queen butterfly as well and was wondering of there is a way to tell the chrysalis from that of a Monarch.  The pictures in BugGuide don’t show any distinguishing features.  Do you know of any?
Thx,  Jeff

Alas, we don’t know how to distinguish the two chrysalides.  We will copy Keith Wolfe to see if he has any insight.

Keith Wolfe Responds
Jeff, please see this rather crude comparison using Internet photos . . .
. . . which was quickly put together many years ago for a student I was mentoring.
Enjoy the wonder!

Had a stroke of luck yesterday when I spotted a Queen caterpillar starting to chrysalize.  Now I just need to be there when she emerges.

Letter 4 – Queen Caterpillar


Subject:  Unidentified Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Near Houston Texas
Date: 07/06/2020
Time: 04:22 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  My mom and I found this caterpillar among her milkweed plants. She raises monarch butterflies, but this one is new. Neither of us have ever seen this kind of caterpillar before.
It was found July 6th, 2020, at around 3:15 PM.
How you want your letter signed:  Kris Prodoehl

Queen Caterpillar

Dear Chris,
The Monarch is not the only Milkweed Butterfly in the genus
Danaus that is found in Texas.  We believe your caterpillar is that of the related Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus, which is pictured on BugGuide.  Queen Caterpillars look similar to Monarch Caterpillars, but they have an additional set of “tentacles” and you were quite astute to observe this difference.


  • 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.

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  • 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.

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