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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Monarch - Danaus plexippus

Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S2S3

Agency Status

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General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 5.2-5.8 cm. Large, forewing long and drawn-out. Uppersurface with large orange ovals in tip of forewing, males bright orange with black scent patch in middle of hindwing, females duller orange with thicker black scaling of veins and no black scent patch; black border has two rows of tiny white spots; hindwing lacks black postmedian line.

Five or more flights, all year in California and southern Florida; several flights, March to November in New Mexico and southern Nevada; one or two flights, May to October (Scott 1986). Mainly March/April to October/November (Glassberg 2001); early June to early October in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Distinctive; best told by color and large size, black border with two rows of tiny white spots, hindwing lacking black postmedian line.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
In the New World, southern Canada and entire continental US south to South America, also many oceanic islands, overwintering in coastal California and Transvolcanic Belt of Mexico; naturalized in many other regions around the globe (Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002); to at least 3505 m elevation in Colorado, but usually below 2745 m (Scott and Scott 1978). In Montana, reported statewide (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993). Common throughout the western range, except rare to uncommon in the Pacific Northwest (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 29

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Species overwinters in aggregations in coastal California and Mexico. In early spring individuals move northward over several flights to summer range. In late summer or fall a final flight moves south to overwintering sites (Scott 1986; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). Majority of southward-moving individuals west of the continental divide probably overwinter in coastal California, southward-moving individuals east of the divide probably overwinter in central Mexico, but still little data to support this.

Open places, native prairie, foothills, open valley bottoms, open weedy fields, roadsides, pastures, marshes, suburban areas, rarely above treeline in alpine terrain during migration (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). Reported in Glacier National Park, Montana in mesic montane meadows (Debinski 1993).

Food Habits
Larval food plants include Apocynum, several species of Asclepias (the primary host plant genus), Calotropis, Matelea, and Sarcostemma (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Achillea, Apocynum, Asclepias, Aster, Buddleia, Chrysothamnus, Carduus, Cirsium, Cleome, Conyza, Cosmos, Daucus, Dipsacus, Echinacea, Echinocystus, Eupatorium, Helianthus, Hesperis, Liatris, Lonicera, Machaeranthera, Medicago, Pastinaca, Phlox, Polygonum, Ratibida, Senecio, Solidago, Sonchus, Symphoricarpos, Syringa, Tagetes, Taraxacum, Trifolium, Verbena, Vernonia, Vicia, Zinnia) and mud (Scott 1986, 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs (200 or more) singly under host plant leaves, stems, and inflorescences. Eggs hatch in about 6 days (depending on temperature). Growth rapid, to L5 and pupation in 18 days after egg-hatch. Adults emerge from pupae (eclose) in about 9-10 days. Larvae build no nests; L1-L2 instars hide in terminal shoots or under leaves, L3-L5 rest openly. Males patrol throughout the day near host plants in search of females; mating may occur at roost sites (Scott 1975b, 1986).

In a news release on December 15, 2020 the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that after a review of available data on the species' status, the Monarch Butterfly warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but listing was precluded by higher priority listing actions. The species is a candidate for listing and its status will be reviewed by the service on an annual basis. For more information on this species please visit the USFWS's Monarch Status Page or Monarch web page.

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Citation for data on this website:
Monarch — Danaus plexippus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from