Danaus gilippusthe queen

Geographic Range

The Queen can be found ranging from Brazil to Florida and the Gulf Coast. It is also prevalent in the states of California, Texas, Arizona, and southern New Mexico. (Douglas, 1986; Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1961; Holland, 1907)


Open, sunny areas, including fields, deserts, roadsides, pastures, dunes, washes, and waterways. Queens are known to migrate like the Monarch, but to a lesser extent. The stay mainly in warm climates year round. (Struttman 2000)

Physical Description

The Queen resembles its close relative the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in various ways, but is smaller and the ground color of the wings is a darker brown. The forewings are long, greatly produced at the apex, and have a triangular outline. The hindwings are well rounded and smaller than the forewing. Black veins with white borders appear on the entire length of the hindwing while the forewing is not bordered with black on its inner margin like the Monarch. The light spots on the apex of the forewings are whiter and patterned differently than those of the Monarch as well. While male Monarchs are often the larger sex, in Queens, the female is larger. A Queen's wingspan averages 3 inches. Generally, this genus of butterflies (Danaus) has eggs which are ovate conical, broadly flattened at the base and slightly truncated at the top, with many longitudinal ribs and transverse cross-ridges. In the caterpillar stage, they have a small head and large, cylindrical, hairless body with dark stripes. The chrysalis is short, thick, rounded, tapers very quickly over the posterior of the abdomen, and is suspended by a long cremaster from a button of silk. It is frequently ornamented with golden spots. Member of this family have antennae that are unscaled. (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1961; Holland, 1907; Pyle, 1999)


To find females, males patrol all day. Females lay eggs singly on leaves, stems, and flower buds, which the larvae will eat. Adults roost communally. Males have pheromones, specific scents, which aid in mating and attract females. (Struttman 2000)


The Queen is known for its definite courtship display which must be rigidly followed by both sexes. The male chases the female and overtakes her from above. He brushes her antennae with his abdominal hairpencils, which disseminate scent, and induces the female to alight. The male continues to hover over the female, hairpencils still active, until the female becomes submissive. He alights alongside the female and copulation takes place. Post-nuptial flights occur with the male pulling the female backwards through the air. Laboratory experiments have shown that males from which the hairpencils have been removed, and females whose antennae have been made none receptive, are unacceptable, unable, or unwilling to mate. Male butterflies of this genus are known to get their sex schents from plants such as heliotrope (Heliotropium) and eupatorium (Eupatorium) which contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. (New, 1991; Parenti, 1977; Pyle, 1999)

Food Habits

The Queen larvae feed mostly on varieties of mildweed (Asclepias), and the members of this family are therefore called the "milkweed butterflies". They feed on Asclepias, Nerium, Funastum, Vincetoxicum, Philibertia, and Stapelia, which are all milkweeds. They are also known to feed off of the nightshade families (Solanaceae) and like the nectar plants Blue Mist, fogfruit, and shepherd's needle.

In times when nectar-bearing flowers are scarce, and competition is fierce, Queen butterflies have been seen probing the bases of grass inflorescences in Texas, but what they gain from this is yet to be discovered. (Douglas, 1986; Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1961; Holland, 1907)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This species has no known benefits for humans besides being aesthetically pleasing.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

This species is not known to adversely affect humans.

Conservation Status

The Nature Conservancy Global Rank: G5- Demonstrably secure globally, though they may be quite rare in parts of their range, especially at the periphery. (Struttman 2000)

Other Comments

All of the Danaidae are "protected" insects, having acrid secretions which make them distasteful to birds and predaceous insects. These secretions are probably due to the character of the plants on which the caterpillars feed, which are rank or even poisonous to higher animals. Other species have taken advantage of the unpalatability of the Queen and have evolved a color pattern which mimics them. One of these mimics is the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), who uses the distasteful looks of the Queen to ward off predators who have eaten the Queens. Research has found, however, that the Viceroy is distasteful as well, but uses the same patterns so that it is easier for birds to identify it. (Douglas, 1986; Holland, 1907; Pyle, 1999)


Brandy Fyffe (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


"Butterflies and the Plants that Attract Them" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2000 at http://www.zilker-garden.org/abf/abfplnt.html.

Douglas, M. 1986. The Lives of Butterflies. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Ehrlich, P., A. Ehrlich. 1961. How to Know the Butterflies. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers.

Holland, W. 1907. The Butterfly Book. New York: Doubleday, Page, & Company.

Majka, C. "Monarchs, Viceroys, and Queens: Who's the real pretender to the throne?" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2000 at http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Environment/NHR/monarch.html.

New, T. 1991. Butterfly Conservation. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Parenti, U. 1977. The World of Butterlies & Moths: Their Life-cycle, Habits, and Ecology. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Pyle, R. 1999. Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Struttmann, J. "Butterflies of North America: Butterflies of Texas: Queen (Danaus gilippus)" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2000 at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/tx/91.htm.