Viceroy Butterfly

Limenitis archippus

True Brush-Footed Butterfly Family Nymphalidae
Order Lepidoptera - Butterflies and Moths

The name Limenitis is from the Latin word for marshes, a reference to this species' Butterflypreferred habitat. The common name is attributable to the species' resemblance to two other butterflies—the queen and the monarch. The viceroy butterfly represents the next level in a royal hierarchy.

The brush-footed butterflies have four functional legs and two very small front legs which are nonfunctional. These legs are more for "tasting" than walking. There are approximately three thousand species worldwide, with one hundred and fifty to one hundred and sixty species residing in or migrating through North America.

Some authors place this species in the Basilarchia genus.


Northwest Territories south along the eastern edge of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains to central Mexico, east through all the eastern United States. Not found in high mountains or in arid lands far from water.


Occurs in moist open or shrubby areas such as lakes, swamp edges, willow thickets, valley bottoms, wet meadows and agricultural and rural areas.


A large butterfly with brownish-orange or burnt orange upper sides with blue-black or dark brown margins and veins. Across the hindwing is a black line with a single row of white dots in the black marginal band. There are several rows of white commas in the terminal black band. The undersides are lighter. Antennae are thin and feathery. The adult's modified mouth parts or sucking tube, coils up when not in use, but can reach deep into flowers to suck nectar. The wing span ranges from two and one half to three and one half inches.

Life History

During most of the day, males perch on vegetation or patrol their habitats for females. After mating, the females lay pale green to yellow-colored oval eggs at the tip of a host plant'sButterfly leaves, depositing two or three eggs per plant. Host plants are mainly willow, poplar and cottonwoods—all plants in the willow family (Salicaceae), but the females will also deposit eggs on plums, apples and cherries. The caterpillars eat their egg cases after hatching, then they feed at night. The caterpillars resemble bird droppings; they are brownish or olive green with a white saddle-shaped dorsal spot. Behind the head are branched, spiny tubercules that resemble antennae. The caterpillars attach bits of leaf matter with silk and hang the collection close to where they are feeding. This is thought to distract any predators. Late summer, third stage caterpillars, which must overwinter, roll leaf tips into shelters for the winter. The chrysalis is brownish with silver or cream color.

The adult butterflies are very similar to monarch butterflies, which many predators find unpalatable. The viceroys were once thought to use their mimicry of the monarch to avoid being eaten, but more recent studies show that the viceroy is also an unpalatable species. Being distasteful look-a-likes to the monarch, many predators naturally bypass this prey.


Caterpillars feed upon catkins and leaves, while the adults feed on manure, carrion and the nectar of members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), especially goldenrod, thistles, asters and others.


There are two or three flights or generations per year depending upon locations, from April through September. Viceroys hold their wings horizontally when gliding, not at an angle like monarchs or queens.


In all life stages the viceroy mimics something. The eggs resemble insect galls that affect the host plants. The caterpillars resemble bird droppings. They roll bits of leaf material to hang near them as a distraction. Older caterpillars look formidable with its tubercles. Even the overwintering caterpillar rolls up in a leaf tip to hide from predators. Because the adults resemble monarch butterflies, they are often bypassed for other prey.

The viceroy was voted the Kentucky State Butterfly in 1990.


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