- Author: Paula Pashby
Butterflies have such an elegant presence as they quietly glide and flit about the garden. Butterflies are beautiful creatures, but I learned that they are also valuable pollinators to the ecology, hunters for many unwanted pests and are important prey in the food chain. Unfortunately, the butterfly is at their adult and final stage of their life cycle that will typically last only a few weeks, with only a few that may live up to 18 months.
We have noticed many gorgeous butterflies coming through our garden recently. At first, I was very excited thinking that they might be Monarchs, which is in danger of extinction. I have read that their numbers have declined significantly, so I took some time to observe and figure out why I am now seeing these butterflies in our area.
I was a little surprised to discover that my garden visitors are not Monarch butterflies. I learned that these little beauties are Viceroy butterflies and are very common in Solano County. My disappointment that they were not Monarchs quickly faded the more I learned about these Monarch impersonators.
Viceroy butterflies evolved to look like Monarchs to increase their chances for survival. Monarch butterflies and their larvae are toxic to “would be” predators. The bright orange and black colors of a Monarch butterfly are recognized by potential predators as a marker to avoid. The similar shape and colors of a Viceroy butterfly also becomes a warning signal for hunters to avoid - clever!
There is always something new to discover when taking the pleasurable time to observe a season of garden growth.
In case you are now wondering whether you are seeing a Monarch or Viceroy butterfly in your garden or during travels, below are some pictures of each type of butterfly from Ranger RobbHannawacker, and a table identifying their differences.
Note: In each photo, the Monarch butterfly is on the left, the Viceroy butterfly is on the right.