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A Comprehensive Guide to the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus)

Introduction to the Viceroy Butterfly

The Viceroy butterfly looks a lot like the Monarch Butterfly. Similar to the Monarch it is also distasteful to predators. The Viceroy is found in most of North America, but may not be in California (Wikipedia). The Viceroy feeds on willows (Salix sp.), members of the Populus genus including cottonwoods, and cherries (Prunus sp.).

Taxonomy and Naming of the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroy butterfly on vegetation.
Vicery Butterfly — U.S. Department of Energy from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxonomy

The Viceroy butterfly was named and described by Pieter Cramer, a Dutch Merchant who was also an entomologist, in 1776. This butterfly is a member of the brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae) and is in the subfamily Liminitidinae.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Limenitis, is a Neo-Latin name meaning “of harbours” (Wikipedia). The species name, archippus, means “master of the horse” (Wikipedia).

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name means “in the place of” (Wikipedia) and is likely in reference to the fact that this butterfly mimics the Monarch Butterfly. This butterfly can also look like the Queen and Soldier butterflies, both of which also look like the Monarch. There are no other common names known for this butterfly.

Physical Description of the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroy butterfly on white flowers.
White Flowers with Viceroy Butterfly — USFWS open source
  • Color: Orange with black with black black stripes and a single row of white dots on the wing edges. In the South (Georgia and Florida) and the Southwest United States, the butterflies are brown in color and resemble the Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus).
  • Wingspan: 2 to 3.5 inches
  • Active Flying Time: This butterfly is usually active around lunch time and flies between May and October. They are most numerous in July and August (Bouseman and Sternburg 2001).

Lifecycle of this Butterfly

Green caterpillar of viceroy butterfly.
Green Caterpillar of Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) — Jacy Lucier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Brown caterpillar of viceroy butterfly.
Brown Caterpillar of Viceroy (Limentis archippus) — Jacy Lucier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Brown chrysalis of viceroy butterfly hanging from leaf.
Chrysalis of Viceroy — Jacy Lucier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Life Stages

  • Eggs: The eggs are laid on the leaves of the host plants in rows of two or three.
  • Larvae (Caterpillar): The caterpillars are an inch to a little more and are mottled brown to greenish with two horns at the end of the head. There is white band in the middle of the body. The coloring looks like a bird dropping, which helps camouflage them.
  • Chrysalis: The chrysalis is green or tan with a speckled color and are about an inch in length. Like the caterpillar, it also resembles a bird dropping. The butterfly emerges in about 20 days.
  • Adult: Two to three broods are produced in a year from May to September. The adults can live for about 1-3 weeks, but the average is about 1-2 weeks.

Habitat

Swamp Habitat in Europe.
Swampland Habitat — Ina Hensel (telemakro.de), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This butterfly is found in open wetland areas such as marshland, stream margins, and wet meadows where willow is found, swamps, and the shore of waterbodies.

Range of the Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) in the United States and Canada

Range of the Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) in the United States and Canada.

This butterfly is flies in most of the United States and Canada, except for California, the Northwest, and the far north.

Host Plants

Close-up of white flowers of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina).
White Flowers of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) — Author Image

The caterpillar of this butterfly feeds on willows (Salix ssp.), which it uses to concentrate salicylic acid, giving them a bitter taste. Other host plants include members of the populars (Populus spp.), and trees of the Rose (Rosaceae), such as cherry (Prunus spp.) and apple (Malus spp.).

Nectar Plants

Flowers of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in a garden, a West Virginia Milkweed.
Pink Flowers of Common Milkweed — Robert Coxe, Image

The adults of this butterfly nectar, especially on milkweeds (Asclepias spp.). It will also visit members of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) such as goldenrod (Solidago spp.), joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium spp.), and thistle (Cirsium spp.). When plants are not available it feeds on carrion, dung, and aphid honeydew (Bouseman and Sternburg 2001).

What other butterflies are similar to this one?

This butterfly looks a lot like the Monarch butterfly, but the Viceroy is smaller and has a distinctive black stripe across the wing. In the west, this butterfly can look like the Queen and Soldier Butterflies, but again this butterfly has the additional black stripe.

What are some interesting facts about this Butterfly?

This butterfly is the state butterfly of Kentucky and was featured on its license plate in 2002.

Where can I get more information about this Butterfly?

References

  • Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. (Champaign, Il: Illinois Natural History Survey.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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