4 Butterfly Caterpillars that Look Like the Monarch’s Caterpillar

Some butterflies in your butterfly garden are excellent mimics and monarch look-alikes. For example, the black swallowtail and queen caterpillars are very similar to monarch caterpillars.

What Does a Monarch Butterfly Look Like?

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a well-known and iconic butterfly species known for its distinctive appearance and incredible long-distance migration.

  • The upper side of the monarch’s wings is bright orange with black veins and borders.
  • The tips of the forewings have a black border with white spots along the edges.
  • The hindwings also feature a black border with white spots and a series of small black dots near the base.
  • The wings are adorned with a pattern of distinct black veins that form a network across the orange background.

They are known for their long-distance migration, traveling thousands of miles between their breeding grounds in North America and their overwintering sites in Mexico.

While it may be easy to recognize adult monarchs (even though many other adult butterflies are similar), recognizing monarch caterpillars can be challenging.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

What Does a Monarch Caterpillar Look Like?

The monarch butterfly caterpillar goes through 5 instars where it molts and grows. All instars are similar in appearance.

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  • The body of a monarch caterpillar is predominantly black, yellow, and white.
  • It has alternating bands of black and yellow stripes along its body.
  • The black stripes are thick and prominent, while the yellow stripes are thinner.
  • The caterpillar has a pair of black tentacles on its head, called “antennae,” which are not true antennae but sensory organs.
  • There are also two pairs of black filaments, called “tentacles” or “false legs,” on its thorax and abdomen.

Are there caterpillars that look like monarch caterpillars?

Yes, there are several caterpillar species that have similar coloration and patterns to monarch caterpillars. These caterpillars often exhibit black, yellow, and white stripes, which can lead to confusion with monarch caterpillars.

While monarch caterpillars are specialized feeders on milkweed plants, some of these look-alike caterpillars may feed on different plants.

1. Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar

The black swallowtail caterpillar has a striking appearance with a combination of black, green, and yellow markings. The body is predominantly black with distinctive bands of green and yellow stripes.

Black swallowtail caterpillars are known to feed on various plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae), including parsley, dill, fennel, and Queen Anne’s lace.

Black swallowtail caterpillar
Black swallowtail caterpillar

2. Queen Butterfly caterpillar

The queen butterfly caterpillar has a similar coloration to the monarch caterpillar, with alternating bands of black, yellow, and white stripes. The body is predominantly black with distinctive bands of yellow and white stripes.

Like the monarch caterpillar, queen caterpillars also feed on milkweed plants.

Queen butterfly caterpillar
Queen butterfly caterpillar

3. Viceroy Butterfly caterpillar

The Viceroy caterpillar has a unique coloration with a combination of green, black, and white markings. The body is primarily green with black stripes along the back and sides.

Viceroy caterpillars feed on various woody plants, including willows, poplars, and cottonwoods. They do not feed on milkweed plants like monarch caterpillars.

Check out our article on viceroy butterflies.

Viceroy butterfly caterpillar
Viceroy butterfly caterpillar

4. Soldier Butterfly caterpillar

The soldier or tropical queen caterpillar has a unique coloration with a combination of black, white, and yellow markings. The body is predominantly black with distinct bands of white and yellow stripes.

Tropical Queen caterpillars feed on various plants, including members of the milkweed family and dogbane family.

Tropical queen caterpillar
Tropical queen caterpillar

Where to find Monarch caterpillars?

Monarch caterpillars can be found in various habitats where their host plants, milkweed, grow, including:

  • Common milkweed
  • Swamp milkweed
  • Thowy milkweed
  • Tropical milkweed
  • Mexican butterfly weed

This means you’ll most likely notice a monarch caterpillar among milkweed leaves.

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