Species Profile

Monarch

Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus
Taxonomy Group: Arthropods
Range: Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2016
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


Butterfly enthusiasts and citizen scientists are encouraged to submit their Monarch observations using eButterfly. This website allows users to track their butterfly sightings and locations, organize, store and share photos, and make a valuable contribution to science and conservation.


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Other Protection or Status | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Monarch

Monarch Photo 1

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Description

The adult Monarch is a bright orange butterfly with heavy black veins and a wide black border containing two rows of white spots. The wingspan is about 10 cm. Males can be distinguished from females by the presence of black coloured scent glands on each of their hind wings. Monarchs can be distinguished from the smaller but similar Viceroy by the absence of an inner margin of black on the hind wings. Monarch larvae or caterpillars are striped yellow, black and white; they grow to about 5 cm in length. The distinctive gold-green chrysalis suspends from a milkweed leaf or branch.

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Distribution and Population

The Monarch is widely distributed from Central America to southern Canada, and from coast to coast. There are three populations of the Monarch: western, central, and eastern. The western population includes all Monarchs found west of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast, from southwestern USA to southern Canada. The entire western population overwinters along the coast of California in Eucalyptus trees (native to Australia, brought to California in the 1850s). The central population occurs in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and southern Mexico. This population is relatively sedentary; the butterflies make short seasonal migrations and are reproductively active throughout the year (unlike the butterflies of the other two populations). The eastern population of the Monarch is the largest of the three, and includes all Monarchs that occur east of the Rocky Mountains, from the Gulf coast to southern Canada, and from the Great Plain States and Prairie Provinces east to the Atlantic coast. The entire population overwinters annually at approximately 12 sites in the Transverse Neovolcanic Belt, a mountain range in central Mexico. These sites are located within 800 km of each other and occur in the high-altitude Oyamel Fir forest. The Monarchs arrive at these sites between early November and late December, and form large aggregations of millions of butterflies. Generally, they remain inactive throughout the winter. The mass of butterflies breaks up in March and early April and the Monarchs begin their migration north. They fly to the Gulf Coast where the females lay eggs, and it is these offspring that continue the migration back to the northern breeding range. It takes several generations of butterflies to reach the northern part of the range, each generation responding to the availability of milkweed plants. Presently the eastern population numbers in the tens of millions, while the western population numbers in the millions. However, each population varies dramatically from year to year, depending on the climatic conditions.

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Habitat

Monarchs in Canada exist primarily wherever milkweed (Asclepius) and wildflowers (such as Goldenrod, asters, and Purple Loosestrife) exist. This includes abandoned farmland, along roadsides, and other open spaces where these plants grow. Monarch wintering habitats include Eucalyptus trees along the Californian coast, and the Oyamel Fir forest in central Mexico. The distribution of the Monarch has gradually shifted eastward over the past century, due to a combination of clearing of deciduous forests in the eastern USA and southeastern Canada, and loss of habitat to agricultural development in the Great Plains.

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Biology

The eastern and western populations of the Monarch annually migrate south, beginning in August and continuing until mid-October. The butterflies actively seek nectar from wildflowers to increase their strength and build up a fat reserve that will maintain them throughout the winter and the early spring (when no nectar is available). Large aggregations of Monarchs may be seen in the fall along the north shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie, as they prepare to cross the open water. There are 2 or 3 generations of Monarchs from June to September each year. Development through the four stages of the life cycle (egg, larva, pupa, adult) may take between 20 and 45 days, depending on the weather conditions. A female may lay up to 400 eggs per fertilization. The pinhead-sized green eggs are laid one by one on leaves of various milkweed species, the primary food of the caterpillars that will hatch from the eggs after 3 to 12 days. When full-grown (which takes 9 to 18 days of serious chewing), the caterpillar attaches itself upside down to a milkweed leaf or branch, and forms a light green pupa. The adult butterfly emerges after a further 9 to 18 days. The adults have a 1:1 sex ratio. Monarch larvae store poison from the milkweed leaves they eat and pass it along to the adults, which makes the butterfly unpalatable and provides some protection against predation.

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Threats

Environmental conditions and loss of breeding habitat pose threats to all Monarchs. However, there are population-specific threats as well. The eastern population of the Monarch is limited by loss of habitat to logging, human disturbance, and predation, especially while wintering in Mexico. Widespread and increasing use of herbicides in North America is another significant threat, which kills both the milkweed needed by the caterpillars and the nectar-producing wildflowers needed by the adults. Threats for the western population include real estate development along the Californian coast, which infringes on the wintering sites of the western population; programs to actively eliminate the Eucalyptus trees (an exotic species); and a protozoan disease.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Monarch is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Monarch occurs in Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, where it is protected under the Canada National Parks Act. Point Pelee, as well as Long Point and Prince Edward Point, are designated as Monarch Butterfly Reserves.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Other Protection or Status

The Monarch Butterfly Conservation Program was created by the Mexican government to conserve wintering grounds for the species as well.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Monarch Danaus plexippus in Canada (2010)

    The Monarch is a large, showy, orange and black butterfly. The wings, which span 93-105 mm, are mostly orange with a broad black border and two rows of circular white spots. The chrysalis is of a spectacular green and gold. The larva is distinctively white, yellow, and black-banded, with a pair of black filaments at its head and tail.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Monarch Danaus plexippus (2010)

    Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Monarch Scientific name Danaus plexippus Status Special Concern Reason for designation This species has a population of millions to over one billion individuals. The most sensitive stage of its annual cycle is overwintering. There are two main overwintering areas: the Oyamel Fir forests of Central Mexico, where 90% of the population overwinters, and coastal regions of California. The overall area of these sites is relatively small, and threats, especially from logging in the Oyamel Fir forests, are sufficient to suggest that the species could become Threatened in the near future. Occurrence British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia Status history Designated Special Concern in April 1997. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2001 and in April 2010. Please note that the related COSEWIC Status Report is available below in PDF format. You will be asked to provide your e-mail address then you will receive a link to download the publication. After processing, your email address is not retained in any way and is automatically discarded by our system.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Monarch (2010)

    This species has a population of millions to over one billion individuals. The most sensitive stage of its annual cycle is overwintering. There are two main overwintering areas: the Oyamel Fir forests of Central Mexico, where 90% of the population overwinters, and coastal regions of California. The overall area of these sites is relatively small, and threats, especially from logging in the Oyamel Fir forests, are sufficient to suggest that the species could become Threatened in the near future.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada (2017)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (KNP and NHS), including Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur within these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at KNP and NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) in Canada (2016)

    The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers for the management of the Monarch and have prepared this plan in cooperation with the provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – November 2010 (2010)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 4, 2011 for species undergoing normal consultations and by February 4, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 22, 2016