What Is It Wednesday: Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy butterflies are a smaller butterfly with a wingspan of 6.3 to 8.6 cm that sport dark orange wings outlined and veined in black. Along their black-edged wings are rows of white dots. Their colouring is very similar to that of the Monarch butterfly, but Viceroy’s have one key difference: along the bottom of their hind wings are dark horizontal veins. This similarity in looks is called mimicry.

Previously, Viceroys were thought to be a Batesian mimic, meaning, that as a harmless species, they would take on the guise of a toxic species to protect themselves from predators. Later, it was determined that Viceroys are also a toxic species and are actually Müllerian mimics, meaning that each species provides each other additional protection from their similarities in looks and toxicity.

The Viceroy is a non-migratory species and can be found throughout Canada from Nova Scotia to the Prairies. The word “Limenitis” translates to “marshes”, which is very suitable for this species since its preference for habitat is in wet areas. Most of its host plants can be found along the banks of rivers, marshes, swamps, and ponds, but this butterfly can also be found in meadows where it will feed on flower nectar, carrion, dung, and fungi.

Fun Fact: Much like their adult counterparts, Viceroy caterpillars use their image to their advantage. They are said to look like bird droppings, which deters birds from eating them. This is an effective method because nobody wants to eat their own poop.

Photo by John St. Pierre