This is the best time of the year to enjoy butterfly watching in Eliza Howell Park. Many meadow flowers are in full bloom, attracting a colorful variety of butterflies.
One species now present is often misidentified: the Viceroy butterfly. It looks very much like the much better known Monarch, so a quick look leads many to think it is a Monarch.
It is slightly smaller than a Monarch, but the major visible difference is the black line across the hind wings.
Even in name, the Viceroy is subordinate to the Monarch. In colonial history, a “viceroy” is someone who exercises authority in the name of a sovereign, a “monarch.”
Viceroys arrive in the park in July and, as I watch them this week, I find myself thinking that they deserve to be recognized as special on their own, not just thought of in relationship to Monarchs.
Viceroys do not migrate; rather, they spend the winter as caterpillars. They can be found in most parts of the U.S., as indicated in this range map is from the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America.
For a long time, Viceroys have been described as mimicking Monarchs, benefiting from looking like Monarchs, who are toxic to most birds. It has now been established that Viceroys have their own, different kind of, toxicity.
They don’t need to be misidentified by insect-eating birds to be avoided. And Monarchs likely benefit from being misidentified as Viceroys.
So this week I am celebrating the Viceroy as a full equal to the Monarch, not subordinate and not dependent. It deserves to be highlighted for itself.