Monarchs and Mimics


Can you tell which one of these two butterflies is a Monarch (Danaaus plexippus) and which one is a Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)? This is a tricky question because one of these butterflies is a mimic!

monach butterfly
Photo credit: Noah Cole

viceroy butterfly
Photo credit: Noah Cole

Mimics are creatures that copy another species, they often take on disguises as a way to hide from predators. Monarch butterflies are poisonous to many animals because of the milkweed plant that they eat, many scientists believe this is why the Viceroy copies their toxic friend’s look. By mimicking (or looking like) the Monarch the Viceroy is  sending a warning sign to animals, like a hungry bird, saying ‘hey don’t eat me I may be poisonous’.  With all of this confusion how do you tell these butterflies apart?  If you look closely, at the photos, you will see that the Viceroy butterfly has a black horizontal bar on its hind wings while the Monarch butterfly doesn’t. (If you are still stumped the first photo is of the Monarch the second is the Viceroy). You can also tell these lookalikes apart by their flying styles; while the Viceroy holds their wings flat the Monarch keeps their wings in a V shape above their body.

Try showing these images to your friends and family and see if they can tell the difference between a Monarch and a Viceroy.

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