Discover the mystery behind this monarch look-alike.
QUICK! Name that butterfly. No, it's not a monarch—it's a viceroy, a convincing imposter whose look-alike guise protects it from predators.
Like monarchs, viceroys have black-veined orange wings with white spots at the borders. What sets the viceroy apart is an extra black line curving across the hind wings. This subtle distinction is overlooked by most birds, which steer clear of monarchs because their milkweed diet makes them unpalatable. Since viceroys look similar, they're spared as well.
Clever camouflage protects the viceroy throughout its life cycle. The eggs mimic leaf growths, the caterpillars have slightly fearsome-looking "horns" and the chrysalides resemble bird droppings. Over winter, hibernating viceroy caterpillars hide in plain sight by wrapping themselves in bits of leaves attached to branches.
Viceroys are slighter smaller than monarchs, with wingspans of 2-1/2 to 3 inches. In flight, they alternate between wildly flapping and gliding.
You'll find this butterfly throughout the United States and Canada, with the exception of the West Coast. In the southern U.S., viceroys have darker mahogany-colored wings, appearing more like the queen butterfly, another milkweed eater.
Willow leaves are the preferred food for the caterpillars, so they seek out open water or moist marshy areas. If willows aren't available, they'll eat the leaves of aspen, poplar, apple, cherry and plum trees in meadows and wooded areas.
As adult butterflies, viceroys feed on the nectar of thistle, aster, goldenrod and Joe Pye weed, as well as tree sap and overripe fruit.
You're most likely to spot viceroys and their caterpillars between April and September. In warmer areas, they're often in flight year-round.
BUTTERFLY BRAINTEASER: Do you know which state named the viceroy as its official state butterfly?
Answer: The viceroy became Kentucky's official state butterfly in 1990.