Monarch butterflies get all the press as our most beloved species while the Queen, a close cousin, goes largely ignored. Life’s not fair, even for butterfly beauties.
Upon close inspection, you’ll find that Queens share the charms of their closely related Monarch sisters, including large size, bright-striped caterpillars and chrysalises that resemble a gold-dotted jade crystal.
If you have flowers blooming now, you’re likely seeing Queens, Danaus gillippus. Like Monarchs, Queens host only on milkweed, but they nectar indiscriminately. During this historic Texas drought, they’re clinging to river bottoms, seeking the goldenrod and swamp milkweed that blooms in late summer. In our gardens, they gravitate to lantanas, pentas, milkweed and purple mistflower.
Queen butterflies, wings folded, on Purple Mistflower
Queens generally precede the Fall Monarch parade. While they don’t migrate like Monarchs, they are seasonal, showing up in the Spring and Fall.
Telling the difference between the two can challenge butterfly observers. On first glance, Queens and Monarchs seem identical, but look closely and you’ll see that Queens are solidly burnt orange, almost brown, with wings folded. Monarchs have much more variation in their coloring. With wings open, the difference is more striking. Queens
Queen Butterfly, wings open. Oh, and it’s a male.
display none of the “stained glass” veins of Monarchs (see the banner photo at the top of this web page). Queens’ open wings boast a solid orange-brown, with only white specks on the outer edges and a black outline.
In the caterpillar stage, Queens flaunt similar Monarch-like yellow and black stripes, but they also sport three sets of filaments, the amusing antennae-like protuberances that seem to feel the world around them in expressive contortions. Monarchs display only two. Queens also wear a red accent where those filaments connect to the caterpillar, presumably a warning sign to predators: Stop, don’t eat me!
Queen Caterpillar on milkweed
As a chrysalis, Monarchs and Queens could be twins, except that Queens are slightly smaller. Both attach themselves vertically from a a horizontal surface with a silk button after forming a “J” shape, then spin a shiny green chrysalis flecked with gold dots. While some butterfly species opt for disguises verging on the disgusting in the chrysalis stage–as bird droppings (Red-spotted Purples) and dried crinkled leaves (Gulf Fritillaries)–Queens and Monarchs win the chrysalis beauty pageant. Their fantastic jade coloring and intriguing gold flecks provoke some folks to wear them as jewelry. (Not something I recommend.)
Queen Chrysalises are usually smaller than Monarch Chrysalises
For more tips on how to tell the difference between Queens and Monarchs, see these blogposts from the Texas Butterfly Ranch archives: