FWS Focus


Adult monarch butterflies are large and conspicuous, with bright orange wings surrounded by a black border and covered with black veins. The black border has a double row of white spots, present on the upper side of the wings. Adult monarchs are sexually dimorphic, with males having narrower wing venation and scent patches. The bright coloring of a monarch serves as a warning to predators that eating them can be toxic.

During the breeding season, monarchs lay their eggs on their obligate milkweed host plant (primarily Asclepias spp.), and larvae emerge after two to five days. Larvae develop through five larval instars (intervals between molts) over a period of 9 to 18 days, feeding on milkweed and sequestering toxic chemicals (cardenolides) as a defense against predators. The larva then pupates into a chrysalis before emerging 6 to 14 days later as an adult butterfly. There are multiple generations of monarchs produced during the breeding season, with most adult butterflies living approximately two to five weeks; overwintering adults enter into reproductive diapause (suspended reproduction) and live six to nine months.

In many regions where monarchs are present, monarchs breed year-round. Individual monarchs in temperate climates, such as eastern and western North America, undergo long-distance migration, and live for an extended period of time. In the fall, in both eastern and western North America, monarchs begin migrating to their respective overwintering sites. This migration can take monarchs distances of over 3,000 km and last for over two months. In early spring (February-March), surviving monarchs break diapause and mate at the overwintering sites before dispersing. The same individuals that undertook the initial southward migration begin flying back through the breeding grounds and their offspring start the cycle of generational migration over again.


Note: the monarch is a candidate species and not yet listed or proposed for listing. There are generally no section 7 requirements for candidate species (see our Section 7 Questions and Answers on the Monarch), but we encourage all agencies to take advantage of any opportunity they may have to conserve the species.

Monarch Conservation Resources

FWS Monarch Initiative

Mid-America Monarch Conservation (MAFWA)

Western Monarch Working Group (WAFWA)

Scientific Name

Danaus plexippus
Common Name
monarch butterfly
FWS Category

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers



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