Intro: It is always exciting to spot a monarch butterfly among the container plants in a balcony garden. These butterflies lead interesting migratory lives, are conspicuous and beautiful, and will always make an interesting addition to a balcony garden. To help support your local wildlife, set up a butterfly garden where butterflies can come rest and grab some nectar. A butterfly garden will be especially helpful in the late summer months when they need to consume enough nectar to give them energy for their annual migration south.
Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus
Size: 3.5- to 4-inch wingspan
Habitat: North America to South America from southern Canada to northern South America. It has been established elsewhere. Its preferred habitat is in open fields, especially where there is milkweed, the larvae’s favorite food.
How to Attract: Create a butterfly-friendly garden that includes nectar-producing flowers (these will also attract bees). Some good plants are asters, milkweed (which larvae will eat), blue cardinal flower, zinnias, butterfly weed, Mexican sunflower, mustard greens, marigolds and more.
Courtship and Breeding: Males court females in the air, and they breed on the ground. Females lay eggs on milkweed plants, and the eggs hatch into larvae after 3 to 15 days. Larvae eat the sap from milkweed, while adults consume nectar from flowers. After two weeks, they form a cocoon and pupate for another two weeks. Then an adult monarch butterfly emerges from the cocoon to start the whole process over again.
The monarchs born in the fall will migrate south and reproduce the next spring. They live in Mexico for five months and stay inactive, remaining still for most of the time and staying in clusters in trees. They live off of fat they store in their abdomens until February, when they begin to gather nectar from flowers again. They reproduce and their offspring return north.
Males and females differ only slightly. The black veins on the female’s wings are thicker than those on the male. Males also have black spots on their hind wings, which are absent from the females.
Misc. Info: If born in the summer, monarch butterflies only live from two to six weeks. If they are migrating monarchs, they can live six to eight months.
The monarch butterfly is toxic due to the milkweed that it ate during the larval stage. This is the reason why monarch butterflies can stay so bright and beautiful. It doesn’t need to hide, and the bright colors also serve as a warning to predators that they are either poisonous or bad-tasting. Predators generally leave the monarch alone, and the viceroy butterfly looks much similar so predators will also avoid it (although it is not toxic).