Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) are found in all of the mainland United States and in Canada. They are normally found in moist areas, where willow grows.
Considered a Monarch look-alike, in the north Viceroy butterflies are more orange, similar to Monarch butterflies. In the south, they are more rusty in color, similar to Queen butterflies.
At one time Viceroy butterflies were considered Batesian mimics, appearing like a poisonous foul-tasting (to some predators) Monarch butterfly. In recent years, it has been discovered that Viceroy butterflies are also poisonous. Now they are considered Mullerian mimics. Mullerian mimics are two or more species that resemble each other and both are poisonous.
Host plants for Viceroy butterflies include: willow, poplars, and cottonwoods. We raise them on Carolina Willow and Black Willow.
Females lay eggs on the tips of leaves. Hatchling caterpillars eat the leaf from the tip, at first extending the leaf vein with frass (poop) and silk.
As it grows a bit, it begins making a little dangling ball out of leaf bits and silk.
Viceroy caterpillars range in color from brown to green.
They grow over 2,500 times their original weight before they pupate.
Caterpillars often rest with their abdomens lifted into the air.
Caterpillars strongly resemble Red Spotted Purple butterfly caterpillars. Viceroy caterpillars have more spikes on their bumps and their tubercles on their thorax are slightly different.
Caterpillars hang in a J shape to pupate. After about a day, the caterpillar pupates.
Adult Viceroy butterflies feed on fruit, flowers, and other available food. This Viceroy is drinking the bubbles from a spittle bug.
These Viceroy butterflies are drinking nectar from flowers.
Male Viceroy butterflies are territorial. They perch on some object near a willow tree and wait for a female to enter their range of vision. Anything that enters the territory is investigated. If it is a female Viceroy, he will try to mate with her. If it is not a Viceroy, he will try to chase it off. On rare occasions, cross mating between Viceroy and Red-spotted Purple butterflies occurs. It is said that in those occasions, it is normally the male Red-spotted Purple that mates with the female Viceroy
Male butterflies drink from dung, carrion, or compost/soil to obtain salts and nutrients that are needed by males.
Viceroy butterflies spend the winter as young caterpillars. Each rolls a leaf into a tight tube and stays in the tube (called a hibernaculum) until spring and new leaves grow on their host trees. You can learn more about where butterflies go in the winter by clicking on this sentence.