Viceroy – Limenitis archippus

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.

Viceroy butterfly on a button bush bloom

Viceroy butterfly drinking nectar
from a button bush bloom

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.

viceroy monarch queen color compairson

Top left: Monarch
Bottom left: Queen
Top right: Viceroy ( northern US)
Bottom right: Viceroy (southern US)

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.

Viceroy butterfly egg on willow leaf tip

Viceroy butterfly egg on the tip of a willow leaf

As it grows a bit, it begins making a little dangling ball out of leaf bits and silk.

Viceroy young butterfly caterpillar on leaf vein

Young Viceroy caterpillar on the leaf vein

Viceroy caterpillars range in color from brown to green.

Viceroy butterfly caterpillars green and brown in color

Brown and green Viceroy caterpillars

They grow over 2,500 times their original weight before they pupate.

Viceroy butterfly caterpillar sizes

Viceroy butterfly caterpillars
Note the small hatching

Caterpillars often rest with their abdomens lifted into the air.

Viceroy butterfly caterpillar resting with abdomen in the air

Viceroy butterfly caterpillar
Resting with abdomen in 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.

VIceroy and Red Spotted Purple butterfly caterpillar differences

Viceroy and Red Spotted Purple

Caterpillars hang in a J shape to pupate. After about a day, the caterpillar pupates.

Viceroy butterfly caterpillar pre-pupa (J'ing caterpillar)

Viceroy pre-pupa (J’ing caterpillar)

Viceroy butterfly chrysalis pupa

Viceroy butterfly chrysalis

Adult Viceroy butterflies feed on fruit, flowers, and other available food. This Viceroy is drinking the bubbles from a spittle bug.

Viceroy drinking spittlebug bubbles spittle

Viceroy drinking spittlebug bubbles

These Viceroy butterflies are drinking nectar from flowers.

Viceroy butterflies drinking nectar from water hemlock flowers

Viceroy butterflies in the distance
Drinking nectar from water hemlock flowers

Viceroy butterfly drinking nectar from a pawpaw bloom

Viceroy drinking nectar from a pawpaw bloom

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

Viceroy male butterfly perches on a thistle bloom to watch his territory

Viceroy male butterfly perches
on a thistle bloom to watch his territory

A male Viceroy perches on a rock, waiting for a female to enter his territory.

A male Viceroy perches on a rock,
waiting for a female to enter his territory.

Male butterflies drink from dung, carrion, or compost/soil to obtain salts and nutrients that are needed by males.

Male Viceroy butterfly drinking from bird droppings

Male Viceroy butterfly drinking
liquid from bird droppings

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.

Viceroy butterfly caterpillar going into its hibernaculum for the winter

Viceroy going into its hibernaculum for the winter

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