Milkweed butterfly

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For the mythological fifty daughters of Danaus, see Danaides.
Milkweed butterflies
Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis), Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber), and Common Tiger (Danaus genutia).jpg
Three milkweed butterflies. Clockwise from left: Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis), Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber), and Common Tiger (Danaus genutia).
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
(unranked): Rhopalocera
Family: Nymphalidae
Subfamily: Danainae
  • Danaidae

Milkweed butterflies are a subfamily, Danainae, in the family Nymphalidae, or brush-footed butterflies. They lay their eggs on various milkweeds on which their larvae (caterpillars) feed. Historically, this group had been considered a separate family, Danaidae.

Some 300 species of Danainae exist worldwide. Most of the Danaini are found in tropical Asia and Africa, while the Ithomiini are diverse in the Neotropics. Tellervini are restricted to Australia and the Oriental region. Four species are found in North America: the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), the Queen (Danaus gilippus), the tropical milkweed butterfly (Lycorea cleobaea), and the soldier butterfly (or "tropic queen", Danaus eresimus). The best known milkweed butterfly is the Monarch butterfly.


The fossil milkweed butterfly Archaeolycorea is known from the Oligocene or Miocene Tremembé Formation of Brazil. It provides evidence that the present milkweed butterflies originated more than 20-30 million years ago.[citation needed]


Danaus chrysippus, male with anal hairs

Milkweed butterflies are now classified as the subfamily Danainae within the family Nymphalidae. However, the previous family name Danaidae is still occasionally used.[1] Distinguishing features of Danainae include:[citation needed]

  1. Small to large size butterflies: Most are not brightly coloured.
  2. Forelegs modified into brushes and are not suited for walking.
  3. Sex marks appear on the wings of most males, either as patches on the hindwing or one or two brands on the fore wing or with sex brand patches on either fore or hind wing. In some Euploea males, the dorsum of fore wing is bowed and in females it is straight.
  4. Most Danaidae males have one or two pairs of anal hairs or pencils.
  5. Danaids are poisonous and left alone by birds and other natural predators.
  6. Most of the members are model 'mimetic' butterfly species for other families.
  7. Danaids are extremely tough and hard to kill.
  8. They are migratory.
  9. Their food plants belong to the Asclepiadaceae, Apocynaceae, and Moraceae.[2]


Numerous wasps are parasitoids of milkweed butterfly caterpillars.[3]

The extensive modification of landscapes in the United States and Canada, large-scale use of pesticides, and increased deforestation in Mexico threaten the migratory Monarch butterfly.[4]


  1. ^ Ackery, P. R.; Vaine-Wright, R. I. (1984). Milkweed butterflies, their cladistics and biology: being an account of the natural history of the Danainae, subfamily of the Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae. British Museum (Natural History), London. p. 17. ISBN 0-565-00893-5. 
  2. ^ Aluthwattha R.G.S.T. (2009)[dead link]
  3. ^ Clarke, A.R.; Zalucki, M.P. (2001). "Taeniogonalos raymenti Carmean & Kimsey (Hymenoptera: Trigonalidae) reared as a hyperparasite of Sturmia convergens (Weidemann) (Diptera: Tachinidae), a primary parasite of Danaus plexippus (L.) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)". Pan-Pacific Entomologist 77 (?): 68–70. 
  4. ^ "Monarch Butterfly". National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ackery, P. R. & Vane-Wright, R. I. 1984. Milkweed butterflies, their cladistics and biology, being an account of the natural history of the Danainae, a subfamily of the Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae. ix+425 pp. London.

External links[edit]