Western Monarch Day takes place annually on 5 February. It was founded on 5 February 2004 by California state legislature to celebrate Monarch butterflies and their annual migration to spend winters on the central coast of California;
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Danainae) in the family Nymphalidae. Other common names depending on region include milkweed, common tiger, wanderer, and black veined brown. It may be the most familiar North American butterfly, and is considered an iconic pollinator species. Its wings feature an easily recognizable black, orange, and white pattern, with a wingspan of 8.9–10.2 cm (3 1⁄2–4 in) The viceroy butterfly is similar in color and pattern, but is markedly smaller and has an extra black stripe across each hindwing.
The eastern North American monarch population is notable for its annual southward late-summer/autumn migration from the northern and central United States and southern Canada to Florida and Mexico. During the autumn migration, monarchs cover thousands of miles, with a corresponding multi-generational return north. The western North American population of monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains often migrates to sites in southern California but has been found in overwintering Mexican sites as well..Monarchs were transported to the International Space Station and were bred there.
The name “monarch” is believed to be given in honor of King William III of England, whose secondary title Prince of Orange makes a reference to the butterfly’s main color The monarch was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1758 and placed in the genus Papilio. In 1780, Jan Krzysztof Kluk used the monarch as the type species for a new genus Danau. Danaus (Ancient Greek Δαναός), a great-grandson of Zeus, was a mythical king in Egypt or Libya, who founded Argos; Plexippus (Πλήξιππος) was one of the 50 sons of Aegyptus, the twin brother of Danaus. In Homeric Greek, his name means “one who urges on horses”, i.e. “rider” or “charioteer”. In the 10th edition of Systema Naturae. Linnaeus wrote that the names of the Danai festivi, the division of the genus to which Papilio plexippus belonged, were derived from the sons of Aegyptus. Linnaeus divided his large genus Papilio, containing all known butterfly species, into what we would now call subgenera. The Danai festivi formed one of the “subgenera”, containing colorful species, as opposed to the Danai candidi, containing species with bright white wings. Linnaeus wrote: “Danaorum Candidorum nomina a filiabus Danai Aegypti, Festivorum a filiis mutuatus sunt.” (English: “The names of the Danai candidi have been derived from the daughters of Danaus, those of the Danai festivi from the sons of Aegyptus.”)
The Monarch is often mistaken for the similar viceroy butterfly, the monarch’s wingspan ranges from 8.9 to 10.2 centimetres (3.5–4.0 in. The uppersides of the wings are tawny orange, the veins and margins are black, and there are two series of small white spots in the margins. Monarch forewings also have a few orange spots near their tips. Wing undersides are similar, but the tips of forewings and hindwings are yellow brown instead of tawny orange and the white spots are larger. The shape and color of the wings change at the beginning of the migration and appear redder and more elongated than later migrants. Wings size and shape differ between migratory and non-migratory monarchs. Monarchs from eastern North America have larger and more angular forewings than those in the western population. Monarch flight has been described as “slow and sailing and the speed has been estimated at approximately 9 km/hr or 5.5 mph.
In North America monarchs migrate both north and south on an annual basis. The population east of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and parts of Florida. The western population overwinters in various coastal sites in central and southern California. The overwintered population of those east of the Rockies may reach as far north as Texas and Oklahoma during the spring migration. The second, third and fourth generations return to their northern locations in the United States and Canada in the spring. Captive-raised monarchs appear capable of migrating to overwintering sites in Mexico, though they have a much lower migratory success rate than wild monarchs do. Recent discoveries have located monarch overwintering sites in Arizona. The range of the western and eastern populations of the Monarch Butterfly expands and contracts depending upon the season. The range differs between breeding areas, migration routes, and winter roosts. However, no genetic differences between the western and eastern monarch populations exist. The monarch is found from southern Canada through northern South America It has also been found in Bermuda, Cook Islands, Hawaii, Cub and other Caribbean islands the Solomons, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the Azores, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, the Philippines, and North Africa. It appears in the UK in some years as an accidental migrant.
Monarchs are foul tasting and poisonous due to the presence of cardenolide aglycones in their bodies, which the caterpillars ingest as they feed on milkweed from which they sequester cardiac glycosides, or more specifically cardenolides, which are steroids that act in heart-arresting ways similar to digitalis.
The monarch is the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia. Legislation was introduced to make it the national insect of the United States, but this failed in 1989 and again in 1991. Monarch Butterflies are now of international interest as they are an at-risk species. So A growing number of homeowners are establishing butterfly gardens; monarchs can be attracted by cultivating a butterfly garden with specific milkweed species and nectar plants. An IMAX film, Flight of the Butterflies, describes the story of the Urquharts, Brugger and Trail to document the then unknown monarch migration to Mexican overwintering areas. Many Sanctuaries and reserves have also been created at overwintering locations in Mexico and California to limit habitat destruction. These sites can generate significant tourism revenue. Organizations and individuals participate in tagging programs. Tagging information is used to study migration patterns. The 2012 novel by Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior, deals with the appearance of a large population in the Appalachians.