Monarch and Viceroy
I thought I might talk about two butterflies, one that comes to visit, and one that stays in the area over winter. Why I am talking about this is not so much that they are improperly identified, but that some people may not know, while one leaves for the Oramel fir trees in Mexico, the other stays put right where it is hatched. My watercolor illustration above shows them side-by-side. I doubt I would get a photograph like this, so I decided to paint it.
I was in a car traveling with a group of friends recently and casually mentioned I was at the farm shooting butterflies this past week and was surprised to see them after our cooler weather. In fact, I was really surprised, because the day I was shooting, I myself was wearing a sweater. It was very bright and sunny though, just a little nip in the air.
No sooner than I mention this, I am contradicted by one of my travel companions, saying that I could not have been shooting Monarchs in our area. I never mentioned that Monarchs were my subject, so I proceeded to tell them that I was well aware that I was not taking photos of Monarchs, but in fact, it was Viceroys.
This person insisted that the butterflies are long gone and I might be mistaken. I don’t think I am mistaken because these images below were taken on October 30. I was amazed to see the butterflies.
I told the individual that no, some stay to reproduce and overwinter in the area. They will take flight when the sun is bright enough to warm their wings. I was so surprised to be questioned because it was a comment of no particular importance, just an observation on my part that we still had feeding butterflies. But, I must thank my friend, for without her dogged insistence on that day, I would not have done this post.
The two images, one above and one below, were taken on the day in question. I just included the Cabbage White, or is it an albino Common Sulphur, because they never sit long enough to get a photo. This day, he was a bit more obliging. A little green too, although there were some whiter ones fluttering about.
I explained that both the Viceroy and Monarch look very similar to one another and this is by design. The Monarch, due to feeding on milkweed, has an unpalatable taste to birds. This does not mean they will not be snatched by a bird by mistake, but most likely will not be eaten. The Viceroy on the other hand, tastes mighty good to a bird, but having similar markings is often left alone courtesy of its look-alike disguise. The identifier to you and I is a black line across the lower wings of the Viceroy, otherwise it is a very convincing imposter.
The Viceroy’s caterpillar over winters rolled up in leaf bits, if it is a young caterpillar, or if older, will roll the leaf around itself to over winter. These balls they make of leaf bits are attached to the host plant of a poplar or willow. Viceroys have two or three generations born each season, and therefore have different stages of caterpillars developing.
The larvae looks like bird droppings so they are pretty darn safe from predators.
A beautiful image of a Viceroy larva was found here. It is from The Flying Kiwi, a blog by Richard Seaman, Detroit Michigan. He has the most amazing images of dragonflies and a pair of American Rubyspots mating. You have to see his damselflies too. These are the most beautiful images. He really makes my photos look amateurish. I could not use his image because he sells them, but you may want to take a look.
The Viceroy emerge again, in our area, around May to June. This is temperature driven and leaf-out occurs when temperatures are suitable for the trees. They will generally be seen in our area through September, but may last longer, weather permitting, like the ones that I saw the last week. They are speculated to live for several months, where other butterflies live for maybe six weeks.
Viceroy butterflies are usually found near marshes and open water. The Viceroy caterpillars preference of food is willow, cottonwood and poplar leaves, but if not available, they will eat the leaves of apple, cherry and plum trees in meadows and wooded areas. After all, the only job a caterpillar has is to eat. The final instar takes between 10 – 15 days to go from chrysalis to butterfly. Here is a video on Viceroy butterflies.
As adults, they like thistle, asters and goldenrod. They will not pass up rotting fruit or Joe Pye weed either.
Did you know that butterfly’s skin does not grow with them? This is a cool fact. They produce new skin underneath the outer skin. They molt through the first four instar stages making a new skin each time. The fifth stage is one most are familiar with, when the final molt produces a hardened outer skin or shell, the chrysalis. No wonder they eat so much. Sorry, a sidetrack, but I love the complexity of nature.
Even though Viceroys seem to have the prey/predator scenario licked, they are not as common as Monarchs. The farm has an abundance of willow and poplar, a few ponds and streams, and hence many more Viceroy than Monarchs.
Monarchs are generally bigger than Viceroys. This Monarch above, is dining on Coreopsis during the summer; you can see no line on the hind wings. Also, there are no big willows or poplars here in my area. We do get Viceroy on occasion because of the poplar at the gorge, but far more Monarchs due to the plentiful milkweed there as well. I planted aster this year in hope of getting Viceroy to visit. I also have other plants I am planting to get all kinds of beautiful butterflies. See my post on In Quest of a Butterfly. You can see how the only one Monarch I saw this summer here at 664 was mistakenly snatched by a house wren. Actually two Monarchs came by the end of summer as they do like some of my existing plants like the coreopsis above.