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LMRD 672, July 20, 2018
Viceroy (Basilarchia archippus)


On Montezuma Island In early July I happened upon a Viceroy butterfly that could not fly -- due to an injured wing. So I kept her for observation. 2 weeks later she was still alive, due to a daily regime of water and care, But by the third week she was noticeably weaker.


On the Mississippi River the Viceroy butterfly (Basilarchia archippus) prefers black willows (Salix nigra) as host plants for laying its small pale green eggs. The caterpillars disguise themselves as bird poop -- they look like slimy green blobs with white and yellow.


The Viceroy looks a lot like the Monarch butterfly, but she is slightly smaller (by an inch or so), her oranges are darker (almost cinnamon red sometimes). She has some tell-tale markings that differentiate her: 1) a couple of white spots on a diagonal splash across the fore wing, and 2) a black vein line swooping along outer edge of hind wing.



Viceroys range across North America from Hudson Bay southwards down the middle of the country, down the Mississippi Valley, westwards to Great Range. My Audubon Guide says "In each life stage the Viceroy seeks protection through a different ruse. The egg blends with the numerous galls that afflict the willow leaves upon which it is laid. Hibernating caterpillars hide themselves in bits of leaves they have attached to a twig. The mature caterpillar looks mildly fearsome with its hunched and horny forecparts. Even most birds bypass the chrysalis, thinking it is a bird dropping. The adult, famed as a paramount mimic, resembles the distasteful Monarch. Since birds learn to eschew Monarchs, they also avoid the look-alike Viceroy. Southern populations of Viceroys mimic the much deeper chestnut-colored Queen instead. In flight the Viceroy flaps frenetically in between brief glides." (National Audubon Field Guide to North American Butterfiles).


Concentrating water droplets in her tongue: I watched in amazement the first day Viceroy took a drink of water from a wet rag I had set her on.


First she explored the rag with her antennae. Seemingly satisfied, she then extended her tongue (proboscis), uncoiling it to its full 1" or so length. She delicately tapped the saturated rag repeatedly. Then she drew her tongue back in, coiling it into ever-tightening loops. As the coils tightened a tiny drop of water magically appeared where there once had been nothing, like an early morning dew drop.


I took her on every trip we had in early July. One morning she drank dewdrops from our roll-a-table. According to my Audubon Guide the proboscis is composed of 2 parallel, linked tubes, which work like a pair of drinking straws. It can be coiled tightly up against the face (the Viceroy seems to have a slot between its eyes for doing this, hiding the tongue when pulled all the way in).


In week 3 she was weakening. I decided to share an apricot-strawberry smoothie I was drinking. She eagerly lapped that up, using her proboscis in the same manner as she had done with water. This seemed to improve her condition. But the next morning she was lifeless. Maybe the smoothie was too much sugar all at once? Or maybe she was ready to die anyway?


Farewell friend! Thank you for the many hours of beauty you shared in the last days of your life!

---

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"

Published by the Quapaw Canoe Company since 1998

Celebrating our 20th Anniversary Year in 2018!