Viceroy Butterfly

Common Name - Viceroy Butterfly

Category - Insects

ScientificName - Limenitis archippus

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Arthropoda

Class - Insecta

Order - Lepidoptera

Family - Nymphalidae

Genus - Limenitis

Species - archippus


Description - Butterfly with orange wings outlined with black veins; rows of white dots outline fore and hind wings; black horizontal line crosses hind wings; black fuzzy body; 6 legs: 4 functional legs, 2 small, front, non-functional legs; thin antennae; long, tube-like mouth-part that is coiled when not in use; caterpillar greenish-brown with white saddle-shaped spot on back; horns, or tufts, behind head

Size - 2.5 - 3.5 in. (6.35 - 8.89 cm) wingspan

Ecological Role - The viceroy mimics the toxic monarch and queen butterflies. It is now thought that the viceroy uses Mullerian mimicry, that is, disagreeable or toxic organisms not related to each other look similar and benefit from the similarity. Once a predator has become ill from eating one of the three butterflies, it would likely stay away from all three types, saving more of these species from being eaten. Birds that have not eaten the queen or monarch may prey upon the viceroy. The caterpillar of the viceroy also uses another form of mimicry by resembling a bird dropping.

Fun Facts - The body temperature of a butterfly is about the same as the surrounding air temperature, but its wing muscles must be warm in order to fly. The dark colors on the viceroy's wings help it absorb heat from the sun. You may see the viceroy basking in the sun with wings outstretched as it raises its body temperature enough to fly away.

While the viceroy looks very similar to the monarch butterfly, the viceroy can be distinguished by having a black line across its wings that the monarch does not have. The viceroy was voted Kentucky's state insect in 1990. The viceroy was featured on Kentucky's nature license plate in 2002.

The Latin word Limenitis means "marshes" in reference to where this butterfly is often found.

Food - Caterpillars eat willows such as black willow and pussy willow, poplars, fruit such as plums and wild black cherries, and cottonwood leaves; adults eat nectar from flowers such as asters, thistles, and golden rod; decaying fungi, manure, carrion, sap, and rotting fruit





Habitat - Meadows, swamps, marshes, lake and pond edges, roadsides, lowlands, backyards

Kentucky Distribution - Statewide

Life Cycle - Body form changes completely during development (complete metamorphosis), from egg to larva, to pupa, then adult; adults mate in afternoon; female lays pale green eggs on tip of willow, cottonwood, or poplar leaves, occasionally will use cherry, apple, or plum leaves; eggs laid in 2 -3 bunches with 2 - 3 eggs per plant; eggs hatch from May - September; caterpillars eat the egg casing after hatching; feed primarily at night; young roll pieces of leaves and silk to hang from tree leaves to distract predators while they feed; leaf tips are rolled into winter shelters by caterpillars, forming a creamy brown chrysalis; chrysalis develops in to winged butterfly

Life Span

Life Stage


Seasonal Changes - The viceroy overwinters as a chrysalis, which is the pupa stage for a butterfly.


Status - Common




What We Can Do - Learn which native plants the viceroy prefers in both the caterpillar and adult stages. Include those plants in your landscape. Do not use pesticides with harmful chemicals on plants that the viceroy uses for food. Butterflies need water as well as food. Provide a drip pool in your backyard with rocks for the butterfly to sit on while it suns. The viceroy’s preferred habitat is near a water source. If you live near a stream or pond, maintain the riparian area with nectar-producing plants placed in a sunny location.


Diagnosis and Control

Interesting Facts

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