Is this a Monarch? Telling the Orange Butterflies Apart

The orange butterflies of fall can be really confusing, and a lot of people like to know whether they’re really looking at a monarch or not.  We’ll give you a bunch of ways to tell them apart, along with a downloadable reference guide you can keep on your desk.  So if you’re entering them into a citizen science database like inaturalist , ebutterfly, or Journey North, you can be sure you are entering the right species!

The one that most people get excited about is the Monarch, because they have these huge multigenerational migrations every year.  Monarchs have a pattern on the top like stained glass, and they have white dots on their heads and around the whole edge.  The hindwings have uninterrupted black lines that stretch from the thorax to the edges of the wing.

Monarch butterfly
Viceroy Butterfly
Queen Butterfly
gulf fritillary

Viceroy Butterflies are really good mimics of monarchs, but they are slightly smaller.  They too have white dots around the edges but they’re in a single row, and the hindwings have a solid black bar that crosses the lines from the thorax.  Queen Butterflies look very similar to Monarchs from the underside, but the top side lacks that stained glass effect from the black bars; they’re barely visible at all.  And Gulf Fritillaries are mostly orange on the top, with an orange thorax.

There are some great reasons to just stand in front of one of these baccharis hamifolia (groundsel) plants: We have counted over 25 species of pollinators on one bush alone!  

Downloadable postcard-sized chart of the butterfly identification

Similar to the individual frames of each butterfly shown above, we’ve put together a pdf you can download below.  Use at home, in your classroom, etc.