3 Butterflies That Look Like Monarchs

Look closely at your backyard butterflies! Here's how to detect the subtle differences among the three butterflies that look like monarchs.

Male monarch butterflyShutterstock / K Quinn Ferris
Male monarch butterfly

It’s always a thrill when a beautiful orange butterfly flutters through your backyard. First things first, how do you actually know if you’re seeing a monarch? Some butterflies look like monarchs. Here are the key ways to identify a monarch butterfly and three similar species:

Monarch Butterflies

Look for light orange wings with thick black veins and small white dots along edges of the wings to tell if you’re seeing a monarch. Male monarchs have two black dots on their hindwings. You can spot monarchs all across the U.S. (though they are less common in the Northwest) and southern Canada.

Don’t miss these fascinating facts about monarch butterflies.

Next, let’s talk about the three butterflies that are often confused for monarchs because they look similar.

Viceroy butterfly feeding on nectar from a wildflower.bookguy/Getty Images

Viceroy Butterflies

Viceroy butterflies look a lot like monarchs, with similar coloring and markings. The main difference to look for is a black stripe across the hindwings. These butterflies are widespread across the U.S. and southern Canada except for parts of the far West.

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Queen Butterfly (danaus Gilippus) Resting On FlowersLeena Robinson/Alamy Stock Photo

Queen Butterflies

Queen butterflies have darker, orange-brown wings than monarchs and viceroys. Their wings also feature white dots and inconspicuous dark veins on the upperside. They’re primarily seen in the Southwestern states, Florida and along the southeastern coast of the United States.

Learn how to identify painted lady butterflies and red admiral butterflies.

Soldier butterflyShutterstock / Jim and Lynne Weber

Soldier Butterflies

Soldier butterflies also look like monarchs, and have many markings similar to queens but fewer white dots on top of forewings. Their wing veins are more prominent than queens. Soldiers are mostly spotted in southern Texas, which is a rare butterfly hotspot, and Florida, but are relatively uncommon.

Psst—butterflies can’t resist these flowers.

Want to attract more of these orange butterflies? An important note: Three of these species (monarch, queen and soldier) rely on milkweed as an essential host plant during their caterpillar stage. Check out the ultimate guide to growing milkweed.

Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is an editor, writer and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She’s been with the magazine since 2019 and with Trusted Media Brands since 2012. She brings more than 10 years of editorial experience to Birds & Blooms and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. In her role, Molly works closely with bird experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman and gardening expert Melinda Myers, in addition to the Birds & Blooms freelance writers. Molly was featured in a May 2023 episode of The Thing With Feathers birdwatching podcast. She's a member of the nonprofit Friends of Wehr Nature Center in Franklin, Wisconsin, a popular location for birdwatching in southeastern Wisconsin. She goes out birding often and is still hoping to spot a tufted titmouse in the near future.