Getting your Filament on Queens vs. Monarch Butterflies, Part III

The debate on distinguishing Queen butterfly caterpillars from Monarch butterfly caterpillars continues in a slew of comments on the Monarch Watch Facebook page.   I now stand double corrected:   the antennae-like protuberances I mentioned in earlier posts as tentacles are in fact, not.  Technically, they are known as filaments and are sensitive to sonic vibrations and touch.

Thanks to Jim Lovett at Monarch Watch for clarifying the matter.

What’s not clear is the purpose the filaments serve. Even scientists don’t fully understand the biological point of these amusing and kind of goofy extensions which seem to reach out and “feel” the universe around them.   They swerve and turn in various directions, almost punctuating caterpillar moves like a roving eye or arched eyebrows on the human face.

For more on filaments and what we do and don’t know about them, check this link on the Monarch Watch page.

In the meantime, above is another photo of a Queen I took this week. The red coloration at the base of each filament is dramatic and surely must be a warning sign to predators:  STOP! Don’t eat me!

How to tell the Difference between Future Monarch Butterflies and Future Queen Butterflies, Part II

Queen caterpillar has three sets of "antennae."

As mentioned in a previous post, one way to tell future Queen butterflies from Monarch butterflies-to-be is to observe them in the caterpillar stage.  Queens have three sets of antennae-like protuberances, while Monarchs have two.

I say “antennae-like” because my friend and butterfly consultant, Dr. Daniel Najera, a PhD in Entomoloy from the University of Kansas, Lawrence,  informs me that the word “antennae” is not appropriate for describing all of                                                                                                     these interesting extensions.

Monarch caterpillar has two sets of "antennae"

Apparently antennae have special sensing powers while tentacles are just for show.  Part of the reason for this is to throw off predators (and I’d like to think to amuse us observers).  So technically (or should I say tentacle-ly?) only the set of protuberances on the head of the caterpillar are antennae, while the others are tentacles.

Got all that?

And now, for the photos.  Queen–above. One set of antennae + two sets of tentacles = three antennae-like protuberances.

Monarch–below.  One  set of antennae + one set of tentacles = two antennae-like protuberances.

Glad we got all that straightened out.

Queen Butterfly or Monarch Butterfly? Sometimes it’s Hard to Tell the Difference

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.

The Butterfly Life Cycle in a Weekend: Eggs Harvested, Chrysalises Made, and an Eastern Swallowtail Emerges

With chrysalises galore, a Swallowtail born, and scads of Monarch and Queen eggs gathered on the Llano River, we felt we covered the whole life cycle this weekend at the Texas Butterfly Ranch. And we love that!

The Swamp Milkweed is just about to bust out into pink blossoms on the Llano–always a harbinger of the Monarch Butterfly Migration.  We expect an interesting season with all the rain we’ve had, although hesitate to predict numbers as those butterflies can be wildly whimsical.  Last year we thought we’d have a deluge, and then?  They took a turn for the Gulf Coast and we only tagged about 20.

Not to worry….the Texas Butterfly Ranch incubator is running at medium throttle with about 20 Monarch Butterfly and Queen eggs in production.  Soon they’ll spin their chrysalises and join the line-up of the beauties like the one pictured, left.  They should hatch within 10 days.

Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy the Eastern Swallowtail harvest, which delighted us this morning with the arrival of this gorgeous visitor.  

It’s a boy! Queen Butterfly born this morning–a sign that Monarchs will be here soon

What a great Sunday morning!   As I was making coffee, I noticed a Queen chrysalis had turned black and would be hatching soon.   Before I had finished my first cup, this perfect specimen had emerged, leaving the spent chrysalis behind like a cascaron during Fiesta.

After about 90 minutes, we took him outside and he flew off to light on a nearby Desert Willow.

In case you’re wondering, you can tell it’s a boy by those two little black pouches evident when he spreads his wings.   Word is he uses these pheromone glands to get the lady butterflies excited.

More good news:  whenever we start seeing Queens, that means Monarch Butterfly season is just around the corner.  I’ve already seen a couple at the ranch, and harvested some eggs.

Stay tuned for updates.  It’s not too early to order your Monarch tags from Monarch Watch.