Scientific Note: Observations of Queen butterfly (<i>Danaus gilippus</i>) larvae with unusual pigmentation in south Texas, USA


  • Ridlon J. Kiphart
  • Andrew K. Davis


Lepidopteran larvae, pigmentation, Queen caterpillar, Danaus gilippus, Texas


Lepidopteran larvae are often brightly colored to signal their distastefulness to predators. Within most species, there is usually a degree of individual variation in color patterns that has rarely been studied. Here we report observations, across several years, of larval Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) in the state of Texas, USA that appeared highly unusual with respect to their color pattern. Queen larvae normally have alternating bands of dark and light stripes and yellow spots, but the Texas caterpillars had patterns of violet-red bands alternating with white bands and minimal yellow spots, giving them an overall red and white appearance. To put these observations into context, we conducted a survey of color patterns of this species by evaluating postings of online photographs from around the country (n=57). In online images, the base color (non-white stripes) of the species was predominantly black (80% of cases), but varied from dark purple to violet. The survey results suggested that the observations of unusual larvae in Texas may represent an extreme form from a naturally occurring, wide spectrum of color patterns in this species.