Queen Butterfly: A Monarch and Viceroy Mimic

The Queen butterfly, also named Danaus gilippus, is a butterfly that frequents many southern states of the US, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba; known for its similarity to Monarchs and Viceroy butterflies.

Queen Butterfly Species Summary

Scientific nameDanaus gilippus
Family nameNymphalidae
KingdomAnimalia
GenusDanaus
HabitatMeadows, marshes, open areas, fields, deserts, and woodlands
Range Regions of the Americas, Africa, and Asia
Host PlantsMilkweed species
Butterfly Descriptionsimilar to Viceroy butterfly, brown wings edged with black, with white spots and black veins
Caterpillar DescriptionSimilar to the Monarch butterfly and Black swallowtail caterpillars, with three pairs of needle-like protrusions

What are the colors of Queen butterflies?

queen butterfly
Queen butterfly

The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) is very similar to the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and Soldier (Danaus erasmus) butterflies, as it shares its genus with these species. Its wings have a brown base, with a black border on both forewings and hindwings. The ventral wings are covered in black veins.

There are a few tiny differences between males and females. The male Queen has a scale-covered scent pouch on each dorsal hindwing. Males also have white dots around the black wing border, while females only have them on their forewings. The average wingspan of the Queen butterfly ranges from 3 1/8 to 3 3/8 inches (8 to 8.5 cm).

Queen above Soldier below
Queen above Soldier below

Why Are They Called Queen Butterflies?

There’s no special reason for calling these butterflies “queen.” It’s just the name of the species, like Monarchs or Viceroys.

Caterpillar Physical Description

The Queen butterfly caterpillars are also similar to Monarch caterpillars, only darker. During the larval stage, this butterfly is bluish on the dorsal side and reddish on the underside.

Larvae have three pairs of black, needle-like protrusions — one on the head, one on the second thoracic segment, and one on the eighth abdominal part. Besides these antennae, the caterpillars are smooth.

The pupa stage is short and thick. It’s pale green, sometimes pale pink, decorated with some golden spots. It’s smaller and thinner compared to the Monarch pupa.

Queen Butterfly Lifespan

  • Egg Stage – 4 to 6 days
  • Caterpillar – 2 to 3 weeks
  • Chrysalis Stage – 5 to 15 days
  • Adult Butterfly Stage – 1 to 3 months

Where do you find Queen butterflies?

This butterfly species is often found on open land — meadows, fields, and marshes. In Hispaniola, it shows a preference for dry areas. It will fly around and sometimes penetrate hammocks and forests.

Host Plants

The Queen female will lay eggs on milkweed plants, and larvae will feed on milkweeds and dogbanes. However, this butterfly can survive on various other hosts, for example:

  • Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Honey vine (Cynanchum leave)
  • Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica)

What do Queen butterflies eat?

Caterpillars feed on the host plants. Adults eat nectar from these flowers:

  • Milkweeds
  • Shepherd’s needle
  • Fogfruit
  • Mistflower
  • Butterfly bush
  • Lantana
  • Zinnia

Adults also feed on rotten fruit and dry or wet dung, and dead foliage.

Behavior during mating

Adult males like to patrol looking for females. Courtship and mating usually occur in the afternoon. During the courtship display, both male and female will fly around, and the male will brush his hair pencils on the female’s antennae. Then, the secretion of pheromones will help him seduce her.

Once the female accepts the male, she will rest, while the male will hover above her. Later, he will come closer for a mating session. After the copulation, the two butterflies will remain together for about one hour, resting high on trees. The female will later go lower, to the ground, looking for host plants.

Females will lay one egg at a time. This butterfly has multiple broods annually.

What is a Queen Butterfly Hair-Pencil?

Many butterflies, not only Queens, have hair pencils. These tiny organs serve to help spread out the pheromones during courtship display. The male Queen butterfly has hair pencils on his abdomen, tucked in while he’s not interacting with a female. Hair pencils are crucial for the success rate of courtship display.

While their lack doesn’t reduce the butterfly’s enthusiasm for mating, males without hair pencils do have lower mating success. Still, males without them are no less fertile than those with them.

Common Predators

Like other butterflies, the Queen is the prey of birds, spiders, lizards, and small mammals. However, this butterfly isn’t among the top meals for birds due to its taste. These butterflies mimic other toxic butterflies, letting their predators know they should be left alone.

Are Queen Butterflies Poisonous?

The Queen belongs to the milkweed butterflies. Its larvae usually munch on milkweeds that contain toxic cardenolides. The caterpillar soaks in all the toxic chemicals and stores them in its body. These derivatives stay in the bodies of adult butterflies, making them somewhat unpalatable to predators.

Distribution

This butterfly is common in the New and Old Worlds, especially in the tropical areas of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. It rarely strays in Europe. In the US, it lives in the southern area of the country, such as:

  • Peninsular Florida
  • Tucson
  • Arizona
  • Texas
  • The Gulf Coast

Occasionally, this species is reported in Kansas, Colorado, and Utah. It may also frequent southern Central America, with a rising population in Mexico. Some may also visit Argentina or Cuba.

Do Queen Butterflies Migrate?

The Queen butterfly will migrate in and out of the desert southwest. This is why it may be abundant in central Arizona and west of California. This tropical species does not like cold days, so expect their numbers to drop in the fall.

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