The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Chapter 19: Viceroys and Willows

Dear Wood Folk,

I suppose northern viceroys get overlooked a lot due to their twin being perhaps the most popular butterfly in North America. At first glance they sure look like a petite monarch.

Viceroy (limenitis archippus) is a poisonous butterfly mimicking another poisonous butterfly that mimics it. Or it goes something like that. They call this fancy form of mimicry “Mullerian mimicry”.

Northern viceroys are lighter coloured than southern viceroys. And southern viceroys mimic reddish "queen butterflies" instead of monarchs!
Northern viceroys are lighter coloured than southern viceroys. And southern viceroys mimic reddish “queen butterflies” instead of monarchs!

The viceroy is not as closely related to the monarch as it is to the white admiral/ red spotted purple we covered a couple months ago. They might even hybridize with white admirals (you can see pictures of these hybrids here).

You can find viceroys in meadows and near water, much like monarchs. There’s a side-by-side further below to show their resemblance.

Viceroy Plant Allies

Unlike migrating monarchs, the viceroy overwinters, possibly in the pupal stage.

The larvae eat our abundant willow leaves. Poplars and cottonwoods may also host them. Sometimes they may host on fruit tree and shrub species like apple, cherry or plum.

But by far, willow is their favourite. The salicylic acid that makes willow so medicinal makes these cats very bitter to taste, a great defense. They have other defenses as well. They are one of many species that go for the bird dropping look for their caterpillars. They also protect themselves by feeding mostly at night.

It may be difficult to spot the cats by wandering around the willows at night. But if you take your summer hike by the lake in late morning to early afternoon, you may see an adult viceroy butterfly.

Like monarchs, they produce at least two broods per year. You’ll find them nectaring on milkweeds and other flowers that are also popular with monarchs. Typical of overwintering butterflies, they will also feed on decaying organic material.

The viceroy and monarch side-by-side

Next month we’re covering pretty little sulphur butterflies. And soon we’ll get into poisonous plants!

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