Floridata Article

Viceroy (Basilarchia archippus)

Note the distinctive black band across the middle of the hind wings.
Habitat: Wetlands, marshes, pond edges, moist meadows, and open shrubby areas near wetlands Garden Abundance: Occasional Wingspan: 2.5 to 3.2in Larval Host Plants: Weeping willow (Salix babylonica), Carolina willow (S. caroliniana), black willow (S. nigra), and poplars and aspens (Populus spp.) Favorite Adult Nectar Sources: Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Closely resembling the toxic monarch and queen butterflies, the viceroy was once thought to be nothing more than a clever palatable mimic. Recent scientific research, however, has shown that the viceroy does in fact sequester toxic chemicals from its larval host plants that make it very bad-tasting to a variety of predators. A classic example of “Mullerian mimicry”, all three noxious species (the viceroy, monarch and queen) gain protection by displaying a similar overall color pattern. Any predator attempting to eat any one member of the species trio is likely to get a bad stomach ache or at least a bad taste in its mouth. When a similar looking butterfly is subsequently encountered, the predator will probably avoid the meal, not wanting to make the same unpleasant culinary mistake again.

Widespread throughout much of the U. S. and Canada, the viceroy is a common garden visitor. Although capable of strong and rapid flight when disturbed, the viceroy often lingers at flowers, rotting fruit, dung and sap, making it a highly visible and approachable butterfly. Especially prevalent along streams, ponds and marshes, the viceroy typically does not stray far from its willow and aspen larval host plants.

The viceroy, monarch and queen are all mahogany brown or orange with black wing veins and white spots, but the viceroy is the only one with a black band across the middle of the hind wings; the monarch has bold black veins on all four wings; and the queen lacks black veins on the front wings, and its white spots are much more obvious.

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