Like all butterflies, monarchs are insects. Insects have six legs, three body parts, and two antennae. Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed, which makes them poisonous to other animals. The adult monarch’s bright orange color is a way of telling animals not to eat them.
The viceroy butterfly looks like a monarch but is not poisonous. It has evolved to mimic the color and pattern of the monarch to trick animals into thinking it is poisonous. To identify a viceroy, look closely for a black stripe on the small lower wings. Monarchs lack this black stripe.
Do you know how to tell a male from a female monarch? If you look at the smaller lower wings of a male monarch, there will be a small black dot in the middle of the wing. Female monarchs do not have a dot.
Monarchs live in Iowa from late May until October, but where do they go during the winter? Monarchs do something most insects don’t. They migrate! Animals that migrate move to a warmer area when the temperature gets cold. When the temperature gets warmer, they return. Some monarchs have been known to migrate from Canada to Mexico, a distance of 2,000 miles.
Scientists “tag” monarchs with a small numbered sticker so they can keep accurate records on their migration patterns. It’s kind of like giving each monarch a little “butterfly” license plate. To learn more about monarch tagging, go to monarchwatch.org.