© Court Whelan/Natural Habitat Adventures Monarch Butterflies at the Monarch Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

Monarch Butterfly

These small-but-mighty marathoners with their distinctively beautiful orange, black and white markings are one of the most recognizable butterfly species.

About Monarch Butterflies

We can spot adult monarch butterflies immediately by their two pairs of brilliant orange, black-veined wings with white spots towards the edges. Males have a distinguishing black dot near the centre of their hind wing. Each fall, monarchs set out on an incredible 4,000-to-5,000-kilometre journey from southern Canada to their wintering sites in the mountain forests of Mexico. This is one of the world’s longest insect migrations!

Monarch Facts

Monarch Butterfly perched on yellow flower

Monarch Butterfly


Scientific Name:

Danaus plexippus



A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.


Less than 0.5 grams


7-10 cm wingspan


Western population is more than 200,000


Open fields and meadows in the spring and summer, warm coasts and high altitudes in winter


Migrates from central Mexico to southern Canada


Nectar from flowers, including milkweed

Did You Know?

Each adult butterfly lives for two to six weeks, except for the migrating generation, which lives up to seven months through the fall and winter.

Monarch fall and spring migration patterns

Monarch fall and spring migration patterns

Why are Monarchs Important?

Monarchs are powerful and beloved insects, symbols of resilience in urban environments and a familiar sight to herald summer in rural areas.

In Mexico, their presence has an even deeper meaning. Millions return to Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2, el Día de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — when tradition holds the monarchs are the returning spirits of loved ones who have died.

© Court Whelan/Natural Habitat Adventures Monarch Butterflies at the Monarch Biosphere Reserve, Mexico


Monarchs are threatened by deforestation of wintering forests in Mexico, disruptions to their migration caused by climate change, and the loss of native plants (including milkweed species but also all nectar-producing native plants) along their migratory corridors. Researchers say that the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events (linked to accelerating rapid climate change), is likely also contributing to reduced numbers.

During the past two decades, WWF has seen a dramatic and sustained decrease of the area occupied by monarchs on their wintering grounds, in the wintering forests near Mexico City (where the bulk of the North American population winters). In Canada, the monarch is listed as Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act but was recommended for listing as Endangered in December 2016.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF is working along the monarch’s epic migration route across Canada, the United States and Mexico to conserve its habitat.

As part of a conservation network across these three countries, we’re fighting to protect forests, combat climate change and preserve the monarch’s migratory path. Plus, in parts of Canada we’re encouraging the development of pollinator-friendly habitats through programs such as:

  • In the Zone, which invites people living in southern and eastern Ontario and southern Quebec to establish native plant gardens and other green-space habitats for wildlife.
  • Go Wild School Grants, which fund educational, hands-on projects that give students the opportunity to help nature and wildlife in their communities.
  • Seed Orchards, which partners with native plant growers to bolster the supply of local and source-identified native plants including monarch host plants (milkweeds) and lateblooming plants (e.g., asters and goldenrods). 
© Court Whelan/Natural Habitat Adventures Monarch Butterflies at the Monarch Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

What You Can Do

The remarkable fall migration from southern Canada all the way to central Mexico is actually dependent on sugars (energy) produced mostly by the late-flowering species of asters and goldenrods – an amazing alignment of timing, without which the monarchs would have no energy source to make that spectacular long-distance migration.

Steps you can take to help monarch butterflies:

Plant milkweed:

  • Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) – grows in well-drained soil
  • Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – grows in well-drained soil
  • Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – grows well in damper conditions but also in regular gardens

Plant late-blooming native plants:

  • Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Asters (e.g., New England aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  • Goldenrods (e.g., Canada goldenrod Solidago canadensis) 

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