11 Fascinating Monarch Butterfly Facts

Learn facts about the monarch butterfly, including how how to tell male and female monarchs apart and if monarchs are poisonous.

Monarch Butterfly Host Plant

monarch on milkweedCourtesy Carol Manglos-Foster
Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed for survival.

There’s only one host plant for a monarch butterfly—milkweed! Choose native varieties for your area such as common milkweed, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed and showy milkweed. Create a monarch haven with our complete guide to growing milkweed.

Not All Orange Butterflies Are Monarchs

Viceroy butterflyCourtesy Phylicia Clemens
Viceroy butterfly

Soldier, queen and viceroy butterflies all are mostly orange and black and look similar to monarch butterflies. But they all have differences that set them apart. Monarchs have bright orange wings with multiple black veins. Their wings are edged in black with white speckles.

Psst—is that a yellow monarch butterfly in your garden?

Male Monarch Butterflies

Male monarch butterflyShutterstock / K Quinn Ferris
Male monarch butterflies have dark spots on their wings

The easiest way to tell a male monarch butterfly from a female monarch is by looking for two dark spots on the hindwings—the female butterflies don’t have these spots.

Do monarch butterfly sightings have meaning?

A Female Monarch Butterfly Lays Hundreds of Eggs

monarch eggsCourtesy Michelle Pedro
Female monarch laying an egg on a milkweed leaf

A female monarch in the wild can lay up to 500 eggs on milkweed plants throughout her lifetime. Butterflies raised in captivity can lay even more. Learn how to tell the difference between monarch eggs and aphids.

Here are the monarch butterfly parasites and predators you should watch for.

Are Monarch Butterflies and Caterpillars Poisonous?

monarch butterfly caterpillarCourtesy Sue Lemon
Monarch caterpillar

Caterpillars eat only milkweed, which contains a poisonous chemical that protects them from predators. The chemicals stay in their system to make even the adults taste bad. Bright orange wings let predators know that monarch butterflies are poisonous.

Are monarch butterflies endangered?

How Long Does a Monarch Butterfly Live?

monarch on cosmos flowersCourtesy Diane Theodor
Adult monarch butterfly feeding on cosmos flowers

These gorgeous butterflies are a welcome summer sight, but unfortunately, most of them don’t live long. The adult monarchs you see fluttering through your backyard when the weather’s warm typically live only about 4 or 5 weeks — just long enough to mate and produce the next group. It takes four generations of monarchs to complete their annual migration journey before ending up in your garden again. However, the fourth “super generation” that overwinters in Mexico can live for as long as eight months. For more information, follow the stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle.

Check out 20 must-see pictures of monarch butterflies.

How Fast Do Monarch Butterflies Fly?

250208000 1 Cortney Isetts Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Cortney Isetts
Monarch butterfly flying above purple coneflowers

It’s all about speed for these butterflies. Monarch butterflies can flap their wings up to 12 times a second when flying at their fastest. Give these butterflies a boost by adding monarch-friendly nectar flowers to your garden.

Find out what (and how) monarch butterflies eat.

How Far Do Monarch Butterflies Migrate?

277670215 1 Craig Schafer Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Craig Schafer
Monarch butterfly in flight

Here’s a fun monarch butterfly fact. These amber beauties could fly circles around other species. Monarch butterflies fly a long distance during fall migration, farther than any other tropical butterfly—up to 3,000 miles. Painted lady butterflies also migrate.

Monarchs Have a Great Sense of Direction

Bnbbyc18 Andrea Driggs1Courtesy Andrea Driggs
Monarchs winter in various places in the U.S., including Goleta, California

Monarch butterflies don’t need a GPS to locate their migration destination. Many of the gorgeous travelers find their way to the same exact location, perhaps even to one particular tree, where previous generations have wintered before. Use this monarch migration map to track their epic journey.

Monarch Butterfly Wings Need to Stay Warm

monarch factsCourtesy Susanne Strauss
These butterflies can only fly in warm weather

Monarch butterfly wings are fascinating and complex. In order for these delicate creatures to fly, their wing muscles must stay above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. To help them out, provide a flat warming stone or puddler in a sunny part of your butterfly garden.

Learn how to get rid of aphids on milkweed plants.

Where Do Monarch Butterflies Live?

A monarch butterfly collects nectar in a patch of sunflowers.Courtesy Sylvia Guarino
Sunflowers provide nectar for monarchs

You can find monarchs everywhere from cities to rural fields and mountain pastures. When breeding, they prefer open areas.

After you’re done learning about monarch butterfly facts, check out these beautiful butterfly pictures.

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Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in magazine writing from the University of Missouri - Columbia. When she’s not writing and editing, you’ll find her swimming, running, or hiking. She knows blue jays are controversial, but she loves them anyway.