Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - DANAINI
Danaus chrysippus male, form
© Adrian Hoskins
The subfamily Danainae
comprises of 3 tribes: the
neotropical Ithomiini, the Tellervini of Papua New Guinea, and the
Danaini which have representatives worldwide. The Danaini includes
the Monarchs &
Tigers, Nymphs and Crows, comprises of about 190 species
Monarchs and Tigers belong to the genus
Danaus. They are large butterflies,
characterised by their orange wings, which have a black apex and
white subapical spots. On the males there is a patch of raised
androconial ( pheromone emitting ) scales on the hindwings.
butterflies in this subfamily are thought to be toxic or distasteful
to avian predators. Their bodies contain toxins which are derived
from the larval foodplants, and are often supplemented by further
toxins derived from adult food sources.
bright colours of the butterflies advertise their poisonous
to birds in the same way that the bands of yellow and black of wasps
advertise the fact that they can sting. Any bird that suffers the
unpleasant experience of tasting a Danaus
is unlikely to attack any similarly coloured butterfly.
This has led many other species to evolve adults which mimic
chrysippus, and thus avoid predation.
These mimics include other toxic species such as
Acraea encedana, and also a smaller
number of palatable insects such as
is found across the
entire African continent, throughout most of Asia south of the
Himalayas, on most of the islands of the south Pacific, and across
much of Australia.
Africa the hindwings of Danaus chrysippus
are usually predominantly white, a form known as
form chrysippus is scarce in West
Africa but forms between
10-50% of most East African
Danaus chrysippus form
This species occurs in many habitats ranging from deserts to
savannah grasslands, dry deciduous woodlands, humid sub-tropical
forests, gardens, parks and cities at altitudes between sea level
and about 1500m.
foodplants include most genera of Periplocaceae and Asclepiadaceae.
Some species of these plants contain cardenolides ( heart
depressants ) which are sequestered by the larvae and passed on to
the adult butterflies. Other species used by the larvae however do
not contain these cardenolides, consequently some adults are
inherently toxic, while others are harmless and edible. In fact
about 80% of adults are non-toxic at the time of emergence. During
their lifetimes however all adults obtain pyrrolizidine alkaloids
and other toxins which they sequester from various plants.
The caterpillars of
chrysippus are attacked by the host-specific parasitoid wasp
Apanteles chrysippi which accounts for
about 85% of larval mortality.
butterflies are usually encountered singly or in two's and three's.
They have a slow undulating flight, with fairly shallow wing beats.
sexes patrol flowery areas, alighting periodically to take nectar, or
to imbibe pyrrolizidine alkaloids from the leaves and stems.
overcast weather, and when roosting overnight, the butterflies hang
suspended from grass stems or dry twigs, often in clusters of up to
half a dozen individuals.