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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

Viceroy Butterfly

People often associate Kentucky with fried chicken, tobacco farms, and horse racing. Many are not aware, however, of the official Kentucky state insect, the viceroy butterfly. The mimetic butterflies flourish and flutter throughout the Bluegrass State where they prefer to inhabit moist areas along the shores of lakes, but also frequent wet meadows and roadsides that feature willow thickets.

Viceroy butterflies, scientifically known as Limenitis archippus, usually display the orange and black coloration of the monarch butterfly on the upper sides of their forewings and hind wings. In Florida, Georgia, and the American Southwest where monarch butterflies are relatively rare, however, viceroy butterflies are a deep mahogany brown rather than orange and are better mimics of the queen butterfly. The viceroy butterfly can be readily separated from the similar looking species by its smaller size and weaker wing beats. Also, unlike the monarch and queen butterflies, the viceroy butterfly features a black line with a single row of white spots across its hind wings.

Behavioral entomologists are divided on whether or not the viceroy butterfly is a Batesian or Müllerian mimic. If it is Batesian, the species is palatable but imitates a noxious insect to avoid predation. If it is Müllerian, as most recent research indicates, the species is unpalatable, but mimics the pattern of other noxious species in order to decrease the number of butterflies sacrificed during the learning process of predators. In fact, the latest studies show that the viceroy butterfly may be less palatable than either of its similarly colored counterparts, which would indicate that the monarch and queen butterflies benefit more from the mimicry than the viceroy.

Male viceroy butterflies feature a perch and patrol behavior. For a short time, the male butterflies will perch on the ground or low vegetation and then patrol for about 20 meters to another perch. The flight pattern is repeated back and forth. Highly territorial, if two males meet in the same area, they break their flight path and abruptly soar 50 meters or more into the air in an active display of aggression. When secure once again, males continue to seek receptive females and mating usually occurs in the afternoon.

Larval viceroy butterflies display various means of protective behavior in order to remain relatively safe while consuming their favorite foods. The caterpillars feed at night on the tree leaves of willows, cottonwoods, and poplars. As they eat, the young caterpillars create a mass of leaf bits, frass, and silk, which dangles from the leaf being devoured and may distract potential predators. The larvae are further protected by cryptic coloration. Their drab olive bodies are covered with white saddles or blotches that resemble bird droppings on a leaf or branch.

Viceroy Butterfly Images in Darkfield Illumination

Wing Scale Interference Patterns - Numerous striated interference patterns appear on the wing scales of a viceroy butterfly in darkfield. Several golden strands of fur can be seen in the foreground of this interesting photomicrograph.

Viceroy Butterfly Images in Reflected Light

Upper Side of Wing (Low Magnification) - The orange and black wing scales featured in this photomicrograph resemble those of the monarch, but actually belong to a viceroy butterfly. The species mimics the monarch in northern locales, but usually appears more similar to queen butterflies in southern states.

Upper Side of Wing (High Magnification) - This image is an increased magnification of the brightly hued scales featured on the upper side of a viceroy's wing. The overlapping layers are reminiscent of Spanish roof tiles.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Shannon H. Neaves, Laurence D. Zuckerman, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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