In August we start to see alot of orange and black butterflies here in Central and South Texas. Late summer is when the Monarch butterflies begin passing through our neighborhoods on their migration back to Mexico, and this coincides with Queen butterflies making their presence known.
Because of their similar coloration, size and pervasive presence this time of year, Queens and Monarchs are often mistaken for each other. For those of us who tag Monarch butterflies, this can pose a bit of a problem since Queens don’t migrate to Mexico and Monarchs do. It’s sometimes a challenge to tell the Queens from the Monarchs, and we don’t like to waste tags or unnecessarily handle butterflies without good reason–like helping to piece together the mysterious puzzle of the Monarch Migration.
So, to avoid unnecessary butterfly wrangling and a waste of good tags, here’s some tips to help you distinguish Monarch butterflies from Queen butterflies.
First of all, Queens’ coloration is pretty solid orange compared to the varying shades of a Monarch. In the photo above of a Queen on Swamp Milkweed, you can see how he is solid dark orange with occasional white dots–nothing like the striking veins and color pattern of the Monarch pictured at the top of this webpage.
Second, Queens are generally smaller than Monarchs. Look at the photo at left of two newly emerged butterflies. You can notice the differences in color variation here with the wings in their folded position. Also the Queen, on the left, is notably more petite than her grander Monarch cousin.
If you’re lucky enough to run across Monarchs and Queens in their caterpillar stage, it’s easy to spot the difference since the Queen has THREE sets of antennae and the Monarch only has TWO. Here’s a pictureof a Monarch caterpillar. Notice, she only has two sets of antennae–one on either end. The Queen has a third set, in the middle of her torso. Sorry I don’t have a shot of a Queen caterpillar handy, but will post one soon. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, keep a lookout for black and orange butterflies coming our way. Chances are they’re either Queens or Monarchs.