African Monarch

Danaus chrysippus

ملك افريقيا / نمر السهول

Picture Resource: By Zeynel Cebeci - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0Link

Status: Common

Popularly known as the ‘Plain Tiger‘, it belongs to the group of ‘Milkweed butterflies’ (sub-family Danainae), under the brush-footed family Nymphalidae.

This butterfly species has a wide distribution range from Africa and south Europe across India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar into China and Indonesia (Java and Sulawesi).

In Palestine, this species is common in the open Mediterranean habitats.

This species is very commonly found in open habitats ranging from deserts to grasslands, dry deciduous woodlands and is very commonly seen in gardens.

 It is a very interesting species of mimicry with several species mimicking the wing colour patterns of the African Monarch. This species also exhibits a distinct difference in appearance between the males and females.

The African Monarch has a black body with white spots and the upper side of the wings is orange and black with small white spots on the margins. The forewings also have some orange spots at the tips. The underside of the wings has a similar colour, while the tips of both the fore-and hindwings are yellow brown with larger white spots. The males are relatively smaller in size than the females, but more brightly coloured with a small black spot or pouch on the hindwings, that contain scent scales for attracting females. The males also possess two brush-like organs which can be pushed out from the tip of the abdomen at the time of mating.

These brightly coloured butterflies have developed a unique defence mechanism against predators through their food intake during the larval stage. The larvae feed on milkweed plants and accumulate toxic chemicals which make them poisonous. The adults continue to feed on the nectar of the milkweed plants. Due to their effective poisonous nature that made them inedible to their enemies, several other species have evolved a similar colouration pattern although they are not poisonous, and thereby secured protection from their enemies’ e.g. birds.

The females lay eggs on the underside of the leaves and one egg per leaf is laid to avoid overcrowding.

The African Monarch has a striking colour pattern of black and white stripes with yellow spots, which warn predators/enemies to stay away. The wings and the body of the adult butterfly also have a leathery skin which protects them from the attack of enemies. Also the adult butterflies pretend to be dead when attacked and secrete a very strong smelling fluid which is very untasty, smells very bad and is known to be poisonous. The enemy recognises this and keeps away. The secretion of such poisonous fluids from the bodies of the larval stages also helps this species population to survive.

Sightings: This butterfly species has a wide distribution range from Africa and south Europe across India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar into China and Indonesia (Java and Sulawesi). In Palestine, this species is common in the open Mediterranean habitats.