Six facts about viceroy butterflies

You see a black-and-orange butterfly flitting around, but it looks too small to be a monarch butterfly.

This butterfly has very similar markings, except for the black line across its hindwing.

What could it be?

It's a viceroy!

viceroy butterfly on flower

  1. Viceroys are mimics. Viceroy butterflies mimic monarch butterflies, and it was long thought that was because the monarch was toxic and distasteful to predators while the viceroy was not. However, in the early 1990s, scientists found that viceroys are also distasteful to predators, and their bright colors are a warning. The mimicry actually then goes both ways.
  2. Viceroys aren't picky eaters. Most adult butterflies feed on nectar, and the viceroy does too. However, viceroys also eat dung, carrion and fungus. Viceroy caterpillars are white and black and eat the leaves of willow and poplar trees.
  3. Multiple generations live in one season. Like many insect creatures, there are multiple viceroy generations each summer. The butterflies mate in the afternoon, and females lay their eggs on the tips of poplar and willow leaves. There are usually two-three generations of viceroys that hatch each breeding season.
  4. Viceroys love wet areas. Since viceroy butterflies lay their eggs on poplar and willow tree leaves, they are usually found in areas that support those kinds of trees --- meadows, marshes and wetlands.
  5. They don't migrate. Unlike their lookalike, the monarch, viceroy butterflies do not migrate. Instead, caterpillars in the first or second instar --- or stage --- will hibernate, rolled up in a willow or poplar leaf. Because of this, you won't usually see a viceroy butterfly until about 15 days after willow or poplar leaves emerge each year.
  6. Viceroys fly differently. You can tell a monarch in flight from a viceroy, because monarch butterflies tend to float whereas viceroys will flap, flap, glide. The viceroy flight is faster and more erratic.