There are over 20,000 known species of butterfly around the world. The most popular here in New Zealand is the monarch butterfly. Danaus plexippus is its scientific name. Originally from North America, the monarch butterfly is considered a native species having established itself in New Zealand in the 1870s, and has now become one of our national icons. Their Māori name is Kakahu.
Butterflies live on every continent on earth except Antartica, and the majority are found in tropical rainforests. They have also been to space in 2009 as an educational experiment on board a space station with astronauts. Their habitats range from dry deserts to swampy marshes and luckily for us, local parks and in our own back gardens. The monarch butterflies have also established themselves in Hawaii, Samoa and Tahiti, as well as Australia, transported by ship or carried by the wind. The largest population is located in Southern Canada and Northern United States, from where the monarchs migrate every year to Mexico for winter. Most adult monarchs are herbivores, meaning they have a plant diet. They use their proboscis (long curly tubular mouth part) to suck in nectar from flowers, and water. The larvae of monarchs are called caterpillars. Their job is to eat, grow, store food and develop into chrysalises. Caterpillars are bright yellow, green and white to warn predators that they might be poisonous to eat.
Life cycle (Metamorphosis):
- The female monarch can smell a swan plant from 2 kms away.
- Monarch caterpillars become toxic to birds by feeding on swan plants.
- Monarchs flap their wings between five and 12 times a second, which is about 300 to 720 times a minute.
- Butterflies attach their eggs to leaves with a special glue.
- When the caterpillar first emerges out of the egg, it will eat the egg first as it’s full of protein.
- Adult monarchs can fly between 80-130 kms in one day.
- Caterpillar poop is called frass.
- Monarch butterflies taste with their feet.
- Monarchs may live from two days to approximately 9 months.
- When the monarch butterfly is two weeks old, it weighs 3,000 times as much as it did when it was born.
- The monarch butterfly has three pairs of legs, giving it a total of six legs.
- The common milkweed plant is called a swan plant for a reason! The flower pods that contain the seeds look like actual swans. These will appear at the end of the season if the hungry caterpillars don’t strip the plant to just the stems, which happens in many cases.
- Monarchs undergo the longest recorded two-way migration of any insect. Up to four generations of Monarch complete a round trip of approximately 8,000 km.
- A group of butterflies is officially called a kaleidoscope. They may also be called a swarm or a flutter.
- Monarch caterpillars have six eyes (three either side of their head).
- Female monarchs normally start mating after 3 days of eclosing.
- You can the gender of the butterfly while in chrysalis . A vertical line at the top of the body of the first ring of the chrysalis just below the two black dots means a girl. No line means a boy.
- Monarch don’t eat for 24 hours after eclosing.
Butterfly coloring in:
To have some fun coloring in your own monarch butterfly, simply download the PDF above and print it out! Designed by my amazing artist friend Denise Manns.