Queen Butterfly – Danaus gilippus
Queen butterflies are cousins of popular Monarch butterflies. Both use milkweed (Asclepias species) as host plants.
Queen butterflies are not, like ants and termites, the ones that lay the eggs. ‘Queen’ is simply the name of this species of butterfly. There are both male and female Queen butterflies. Like Monarchs, male Queens have a black spot on each hindwing. These black dots are pheromone scales. Although Monarch butterflies do not use pheromones during courtship and mating, Queen butterflies do use pheromones.
Queen caterpillars eat milkweed. This colorful milkweed is “Charlotte’s Blush”, a variety of Tropical Milkweed. It is Asclepias Curassavica “Charlotte’s Blush”.
Like all butterfly and moth caterpillars, the outer covering of a Queen caterpillar is its exoskeleton, called the ‘cuticle’. Most people refer to the cuticle as ‘skin’. The difference is that skin is actually a living organ while a cuticle is not.
Caterpillars grow too large for their cuticle and must molt, or crawl out of their skins when they become too tight. This caterpillar has sewn a mat of silk (from spinnerets under its head) and locked its prolegs into the silk mat. After sitting still for a day, it literally crawls out of its cuticle. Its new cuticle is slightly larger and allows the caterpillar to continue to grow. Queen butterfly caterpillars molt four times before they pupate.
Queen butterfly caterpillars resemble Monarch caterpillars. Their color is a bit different than Monarch caterpillars. Queen caterpillars have an extra set of filaments. Gardeners who see a Queen caterpillar for the first time often think it is a Monarch caterpillar with an extra set of filaments.
Like Monarch caterpillars, Queen caterpillars often cut the leaf vein before they eat a leaf.
When a caterpillar is ready to pupate, it will search for a place to attach itself. It may attach itself on its milkweed plant or it may crawl over 100′ from the plant to pupate. It makes a silk mat with silk from its spinnerets and in the midst of the silk mat it will make a tight silk button. It attaches its anal prolegs to the silk button and slowly drops into a J shape.
The next day it pupates by wriggling out of its cuticle. The fresh chrysalis reshapes into the classic Queen chrysalis shape. While it is still soft, it is a wet translucent green or pink color. Touching a soft chrysalis can damage it. Handling a hardened chrysalis is safe for the chrysalis as long as one hasn’t touched a pet with flea/tick medication or any type of pesticide.
Within a day it hardens and is either green or pink. The green or pink color is determined by its genes.
The wings are visible through the cuticle of the chrysalis the evening before it emerges. Most Queen butterflies emerge from the chrysalis in the morning. If the day is very cool and the chrysalis is in a shady area, it may wait until afternoon to emerge.
An adult female Queen butterfly drinks nectar from Spanish Needles flowers. Females do not have the two black dots on their hind wings. Queen butterflies drink from many different species of flowering plants.