Archive for September 3rd, 2010

Of all the butterflies I saw in the meadow, the most eye-catching are surely the Monarchs and Viceroys, so I saved them for their own post. The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) must be one of the most recognised and well-loved of butterflies and it was lovely to see a dozen and more drifting majestically from flower to flower. Along with the Monarchs were an equal number of their look-alikes, the Viceroys (Limenitis archippus). I even found one of each species together on boneset, above.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroys are a bit smaller than Monarchs but the easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the black line that loops across the Viceroy’s hindwing. This line doesn’t appear on a Monarch’s wing. The line can be spotted whether the wings are open or closed. Viceroys aren’t closely related to Monarchs, but derive some protection from predators by mimicking the colour of the larger butterfly, well-known for its noxious qualities. It is now thought that the Viceroy may be equally distasteful to predators in its own right.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarchs are milkweed specialists. The larvae derive chemicals from feeding on the milkweed plants that make even the adult butterflies very distasteful to most predators. In studies, it was found that just one taste was enough to teach birds to avoid Monarchs and their mimics, the Viceroys, as well. The migration of the Monarchs is one of the wonders of the natural world. Each year, millions of monarchs from eastern and central North America migrate to the mountain forests of Mexico for the winter. In spring, they begin to move north, stopping to breed when they find milkweed.

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