Saturday, July 26, 2008

Viceroy caterpillar eats willow leaf on World Peace Wetland Prairie in July 2008. Viceroy butterfly rests on fill dirt on Aspen Ridge in 2007

Please click on image to ENLARGE TO photo of viceroy butterfly caterpillar on willow leaf at World Peace Wetland Prairie in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Viceroys (Limenitis archippus) look much like monarchs but their reproduction depends on willows and other native trees for nutrition, while monarch caterpillars depend on the many species of milkweed.

Common name: Viceroy Butterfly
Genus/species: Limenitis archippus
Order/family: Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae

The upperside of the viceroy is orange and black, and looks a lot like the monarch butterfly, except the viceroy has a black line across the hindwing and a single row of white dots in the black band on the edges of their wings. Where monarchs are rare in Florida, Georgia, and the Southwest, viceroys are brown instead of orange and mimic the queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus). Because they look like bad tasting butterflies such as the monarch, they are often avoided by predators. Originally it was thought that viceroy butterflies did not have a bad taste to birds and other predators, but recent studies suggest that, like the monarch, this species is distasteful to birds. They have a wing span of 2 1/2 - 3 3/8 inches (6.3 - 8.6 cm) and are similar in size to the monarch.

Life history:
During most of the day, males perch on vegetation or patrol around the host plants to find females. Females lay eggs at the tip of host plant leaves, depositing only two or three eggs on a plant before moving to another. Caterpillars eat their eggshells after they hatch, then at night feed on catkins and leaves. Young caterpillars make a ball of leaf bits, dung, and silk which hangs off the leaf on which they are feeding. The dangling mass of caterpillar garbage may distract predators. Third-stage caterpillars make a shelter from a rolled leaf tip in which to spend the winter.

These butterflies hatch two to three broods from May-September in most of its range and continue to produce new generations all year in Florida.

Caterpillar hosts:
Viceroy caterpillars eat the leaves of trees in the willow family (Salicaceae) including willows (Salix), and poplars and cottonwoods (Populus).

Adult food:
Early in the season, when few flowers are available, viceroys feed on aphid honeydew, carrion, dung, and decaying fungi. Later generations feed more often at flowers, favoring composites including aster, goldenrod, joe-pye weed, shepherd's needle, and Canada thistle.

Viceroy butterflies need moist, open or shrubby areas such as lake and swamp edges, willow thickets, valley bottoms, wet meadows, and roadsides. This species is usually hard to catch because it likes to land in the upper branches of cottonwoods and other streamside trees.

Viceroy butterflies live from the Northwest Territories of Canada, south along the eastern edges of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains and into central Mexico. They can be found through all the eastern United States.

The Obsolete Viceroy (subspecies obsoleta) has lost much of its habitat due to land development and using large amounts of water for Southeastern cities.

The Nature Conservancy Global Rank:- G5
This means that the viceroy butterfly is in no danger of being put on the Endangered Species List. Go to the The Nature Conservancy Global Ranking Scale to find out more about how endangered animals are classified.

Management needs: It would help these butterflies if we could restore riverside habitats in the southwest United States. We also need to do a better job of conserving the viceroy habitats that already exist.

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