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Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Queen Butterfly

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A regal counterpart to the Monarch, the Queen has a much smaller range, but is just as stunning.

Updated: 01/05/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
A member of the same genus, the Queen Butterfly is closely related to the Monarch. A third relative in this genus, the Solider Butterfly, completes the trifecta of butterflies in the Danaus genus found in North America. All three use milkweed as a host plant in addition to sharing similar appearances. Milkweed imparts a chemical that makes the caterpillar and butterfly distasteful to eat.

Queen Butterflies are orange with black borders around the wings. Two rows of tiny white dots sit inside the black border. The tops of the wings are mostly plain orange, but a scattering of white dots sit by the wing tips. Southwestern Queens also have whitish streaks on the hindwings along the black veins. Underneath, the hindwings show bold black veins. A single white spot sits alone near the center, and small white areas border the curved part an interior vein. The forewings do not have black veins, but they do retain the white spotting seen on the other side. Males in Florida also have a black patch on each hindwing that is not seen in males in other regions.

Caterpillars for this butterfly look very similar to Monarch caterpillars. They are also black with yellow and white banding across the body. Unlike the Monarch, the Queen caterpillar has what appear to be three sets of black antennae: one at the head, one at the rear end, and a third set more than halfway down the body. The bases of these antennae may be red depending. The pupal case is green. Milkweed leaves are food for larvae, but adult males take nectar from the flowers of heliotropes, bonesets like Joe Pye Weed, and ageratums or whiteweed in order to collect chemical compounds that help comprise the butterfly?s pheromone. Many males may be found visiting the same plant simultaneously. At night, Queens may rest or roost together.

This large butterfly is found in just a handful of states, and even then, just the southern parts of them. States around the Gulf of Mexico and in the southwest make up the northern part of its range. It is called Reina in Mexico, and can be found as far south as Brazil. In Florida, Queens are more common than Monarchs and fly all year round.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Danaus
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            Species: gilippus

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Danaus gilippus
Other Name(s): Reina
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 67mm to 98mm (2.63" to 3.85")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: orange; black; white; brown
Descriptors: dots; spots; orange wings; black border; monarch-like; milkweed; white streaks; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 67mm (2.6in) and 98mm (3.9in)
Lo: 67mm
Md: 82.5mm
Hi: 98mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Queen Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Queen Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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