Viceroy Butterfly hangs like a leaf

Viceroy the Leaf

At first glance, this may appear to be the last colorful autumn leaf clinging to a branch. Actually, it is a Viceroy Butterfly clinging to a willow limb that has been stripped of its foliage. This particular willow is very popular with caterpillars of several kinds. Every late summer it gets denuded; it seems like it is more drastic every year. I missed seeing the culprit this year. I believe this viceroy might have been looking for a host plant to lay its eggs. The willow family is a primary host for the species. It spent at least ten minutes fluttering about the branches, with no flower in sight. It outlasted me; when I moved on, it was still busy. I shall have to monitor in next year for viceroy caterpillars.The Viceroy is a Monarch look-alike. It’s a little smaller, it’s flight is a little more frenetic. The black lines are a little heavier and more pronounced than on the monarch. The key characteristic is the viceroy has an extra horizontal black line crossing the other stripes on the hindwing.It is evident in this photograph, if you know what you are looking for. This year another thing that makes it easy to tell the two apart is that we have had nearly zero monarchs seen in the area this year; nationwide populations are at historic lows.

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