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.

6 Responses

  1. yvonne daniel
    | Reply

    I just discovered your site. I am still confused. I posted what I believe were monarch pics in 2011 when my daughter still had her web page going. Now I am on my own but I moved all older posts to my blog at wordpress.com
    Will you take a look at the posts from 2011. I am going to change name to queen butterflies for I am now convinced that I wrongly labeled the photos. In fact I have more of various butterflies. I have yet to find a good site that shows the colors and overall shapes in different wing formations. I posted some with no name. I had forgotten I had those old posts that needed correcting. But just to be sure- if you have the time and only if you want… take a look and let me know for certain these are indeed queens. Excuse typos. I am in a hurry.

  2. Ken Williams
    | Reply

    We have Gregg’s purple mist in our garden (South Austin) and in June we had 15-20
    Queens every day. They disappeared after the rain in July and have just now started
    to come back.

  3. […] Queen Butterfly or Monarch Butterfly? Sometimes it’s Hard to Tell the Difference […]

  4. […] Queen Butterfly or Monarch Butterfly? Sometimes it’s Hard to Tell the Difference […]

  5. hilde maeckle
    | Reply

    I have found one of the best plants for the queen butterfly to feed on is the blue mist flower. The queens just love it. It is perennial in my garden (San Antonio), I usually cut it back to the ground before the first frost. The plant thrives in full sun.

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      No doubt, Hilde. The blue mist flower is a great all around butterfly plant. Thanks for sharing.

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