The most beloved and best known butterfly in North America is, without doubt, the monarch butterfly. However, people often mistake other orange and black butterflies, such as viceroys and queens, for monarchs.
Queens are related to monarchs; their pattern is similar but with fewer lines and a darker color. Viceroys are not related but they look remarkably similar at first sight, probably because they want to fool predators into thinking that they taste just as bad as monarchs. Look for a line that runs across the hind wing of a viceroy, this line is absent in monarchs. Viceroys are a little smaller than monarchs.
Fritillaries are also smaller than monarchs and their pattern doesn’t include white dots.
The monarch’s life cycle is remarkable. It migrates in the fall all the way to Mexico, where it spends the winter. It starts migrating back north in early spring, where it reproduces and has several new generations; each keeps migrating farther and farther north through the spring and summer all the way to northern United States and Canada.
The monarchs that live in the western part of the United States only migrate as far south as California where they spend the winter.
The caterpillars are brightly striped black, yellow and white. They feed on milkweeds (several different species) so that is where you also find the adults often; adults take nectar from a variety of flowers, not just milkweeds, and can be seen visiting them.
Habitat. Fields, meadows, sunny spots
Season. In California they are found year round. In southern states such as Texas and Florida they can be seen from February to as late as November. The farther north you go the shorter the season for monarchs. In northern states they are found from June to October.
Flowers. Seen quite often at milkweeds, common, swamp and several other milkweed species. Also found at many other flowers depending on the season: asters, goldenrods, bee balm.