We start seeing Queens in August, and this year is no different. Queens, Danaus gillippus, share the multiple charms of Monarchs, Danaus plexippus. Both flaunt large size, flashy, striped caterpillars and chrysalises that resemble a jade crystal flecked with gold.
If you’re lucky enough to have flowers blooming these brutal summer days, you’re likely seeing the burnt orange creatures. Like Monarchs, Queens lay their eggs only on milkweed, but they nectar indiscriminately. We had a few pass through our urban front yard garden this week, nectaring on lantana, Tropical milkweed and their favorite, Gregg’s purple mist flower.
If you want Queens in your garden, we recommend planting mistflower. The bloom of the mistflower contains a special alkaloid that male Queens ingest, sequester, and later release as an aphrodisiac to attract females.
Distinguishing Monarchs from Queens can challenge butterfly observers. They appear identical on first glance, but look closely and you’ll see that Queens are a solid dark orange, with wings folded. Monarchs have much more variation in their coloring. With wings open, the difference is more striking. Queens
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.
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.)
For more tips on how to tell the difference between Queens and Monarchs, see these blogposts from the Texas Butterfly Ranch archives:
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