Leading up to our Monarch Madness Live Event we asked for your questions about Monarch Butterflies.  We did our best to answer as many questions during the event as we could.  We missed a few.  So, we have compiled, sifted, sorted, grouped, and arranged all your questions and answered them here.


In no particular order:

Are there more male monarchs or female monarchs?

For the last few years, researchers have found that there are more males than females that have made it to Mexico. 57% male / 43% female.

What flowers do monarch butterflies like to feed on?

According to Nature Canada, the best flowers that adult monarchs like to feed on are: goldenrod, asters, yarrow, boneset, black-eyed Susans,and wild bergamot.

Why are monarch butterflies poisonous?

They are poisonous because they ingest a toxic substance as caterpillars from their host plant, Milkweed.   The poison accumulates in their tissue as they ingest it.  The poison doesn’t hurt the Monarch. Being poisonous means few animals will eat them. 

Where is the best place to find monarch butterflies?

The best place to find Monarch butterflies in Ontario is Point Pelee in early September.

How do monarchs know to go to Mexico?

All animals have instincts – behaviours built into their brains that they know how to do automatically. Monarch butterflies begin their journey when the days get shorter and the temperatures start to drop in the fall. They use the sun and perhaps the magnetic field of the Earth to find their way south. How do they know to leave in the fall and use the sun to find their way? Instinct.

Have monarch butterflies changed over time?

Butterflies have been on the Earth for about 175 million years – from the time dinosaurs were roaming around. All animals have evolved over time to adapt to the habitat they live in. Animals are still evolving. What did monarchs look like a million years ago? Not sure. However, their migration patterns have certainly changed, since at various times over the last 175 million years, North America’s climate has changed from very cold during ice ages, to very tropical.

Why are Monarch Butterflies orange?

The orange color is in advertisement to other animals of their toxicity.  The bright color warns other animals not to eat it or risk being poisoned.

Why are they called “monarchs?”

Monarch means “king” or “queen.” Monarch Butterflies were named after King William III of England. He was also the Prince of Orange, which is an area in France. Since Monarch butterflies are orange, and William was a monarch, and a ruler of a place called Orange, it kind of fit.

How long do monarchs live?

Usually monarch butterflies live 6-8 weeks but the ones that migrate south will live 6-8 months

How far can monarch butterflies fly?

During migration a Monarch Butterfly can fly 160 kilometers in a single day.

Do monarch butterflies sleep?

Butterflies do not sleep like we do. They have no eyelids, so their eyes are always open. Monarch butterflies do have periods of rest every night.

How do you tell males from females?

Males have a black spot on their hind wing, females have thicker black lines.

Do the patterns on their wings help them?

The patterns on their wings are an example of camouflage, much like the stripes on a zebra they break up the silhouette of an individual butterfly.

What do monarch butterflies do when it gets cold?

Between 0-15 degrees celsius they will go into a state of torpor where their metabolism slows dramatically and they move very little conserving energy for when it warms up.  Below 0 degrees and the butterfly will die.

How many eggs do they lay?

Monarch butterflies lay somewhere between 300 and 500 eggs, usually only laying one egg on a milkweed plant.

How many monarchs are there?

Over the last 20 years populations of monarchs overwintering in Mexico have been between 60 million and 1 billion. Summer time populations in North America are much higher.

How many butterflies fly from Canada to Mexico?

About 17% of the monarchs in Mexico start out in Canada. In the winter of 2018-2019, the number of monarchs in Mexico was 300 million. So about 50 million would have flown from Canada. Many more started the trip , but did not make it.

Does anything eat monarchs?

Some wasps lay eggs inside monarch caterpillars and the larvae of the wasps eat the caterpillar from the inside. Some types of orioles and grosbeaks can eat monarch butterflies without being poisoned.

Why are monarch populations dropping?

Monarch populations are dropping due to habitat loss as cities and roads expand. The number of milkweed plants is dropping due to widespread herbicide use, Round-up being the one used the most. Climate change is affecting monarch migration, and availability of flowering plants. Illegal logging in Mexico robs monarchs of critical winter habitat. There are lots of issues for monarchs.

Why do people tag monarch butterflies?

Tagging helps researchers know where monarchs in Mexico originated from, and what migration routes different populations take. It can also help scientists figure out how many butterflies there are in different areas of North America before they begin migrating.

How do butterflies grow in a chrysalis?

It’s weird, but the monarch caterpillar basically digests itself inside the chrysalis. What is left is some goop with genetic “discs” that the adult monarchs then develop from.

How do butterflies make a chrysalis?

Unlike moths which mostly spin cocoons from silky threads, butterflies have the chrysalis formed underneath their skin. When the monarchs moult (shed their skin) for the last time, the smooth greenish chrysalis is already formed with them in it. Google videos of monarchs entering the pupa stage. Pretty cool.

Do monarchs fly fast enough to experience drag?

Anything moving through air will experience drag. The air pushes back on you the faster you go. So monarchs experience drag. If the wind is blowing the monarchs in the wrong direction, that is a drag.

Are there any cities that have monarch festivals?

Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto and Rondeau Provincial Park both have monarch festivals at the end of the summer. 

How do taggers catch monarchs?

We caught our onarchs on flowers that they were feeding on. Some taggers hang out in areas where monarchs are known to migrate in higher numbers. Point Pelee in Southern Ontario, and The Scarborough Bluffs east of Toronto are migration hotspots. 

How fast do monarch butterflies fly?

Monarchs fly about 9 kilometres/hour. Faster if the wind is behind them. 9 kilometres per hour is about how fast you can run.

How high can monarch butterflies fly?

Pilots have seen monarch butterflies flying over three kilometres high.

How do you tell a monarch butterfly from a viceroy butterfly?

Viceroys look like monarchs! This helps the viceroys because they are not poisonous, but look like their poisonous cousins. Animals avoid eating viceroys because of their mimicry. We can tell viceroys from monarchs because viceroys are a little smaller than monarchs, and Viceroys have an extra black line across the bottom of their wings that monarchs do not.

Do monarch butterflies look after their young?

No. Once the eggs are laid, adults provide no care for the caterpillars.

What makes monarch butterflies so special?

Two things stand out: Monarchs are beautiful. They are orange and black, and they are obvious to us. And their story makes them special to a lot of people – that a fragile insect is able to fly 4000 kilometres to a place they have never been before. Amazing.

Why aren’t monarch caterpillars poisoned by milkweed?

Tricky question! Monarch caterpillars have three genetic mutations that allow them to avoid the serious complications that the milkweed poison causes in most other animals.

How long does milkweed live?

Milkweed is a perennial plant, meaning that if healthy, it will come back every year, and may spread from rhizomes (roots) growing out from the original plant.

How can I help monarch butterflies?

Plant milkweed that monarchs need to lay eggs on. Plant flowers that provide nectar for adult butterflies. Don’t use pesticides. Protect habitats that monarchs use. Set aside a section of your lawn and do not mow it.

Do monarchs drink water?

Yes. They have a proboscis that acts like a straw to drink nectar from flowers. The proboscis can also be used to drink water. 

Does tagging hurt the butterfly?

No. The tags are very small and light, and do not interfere with the wings flapping. Monarchs are able to fly to Mexico with the tags on them. The tags are stickers that do not pierce the wing.

Why do they migrate?

Monarchs migrate out of Canada in the winter because it gets to cold for them here, and there are no sources of flowers to feed on. Monarchs migrate to Canada in the spring because the weather is warmer, and there are lots of flowers to feed on, and milkweed to lay eggs on.


Thanks for all the great questions!