Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Queen of Monarch Butterfly Mimics

I have written several blog posts about monarch butterflies and have pictured queen butterflies in a couple of posts. (You can use the search box at the right to find them.) However I don't think I have discussed monarch butterfly mimics before. There are two butterfly species that mimic the monarch butterfly. It is thought that doing this affords them some protection from predators since birds generally leave monarch butterflies alone because they taste bad from feeding on milkweed as caterpillars. The two mimics are the viceroy butterfly and the queen butterfly. Viceroys are supposed to be in my area but I only recall having seen queen butterflies along with monarch butterflies. You can see one of each feeding on the same blue mist flower in the first photo. The queen butterfly is on the left with the monarch on the right side of the photo.

Until this week I did not realize that the queen butterfly caterpillar also mimics the monarch butterfly caterpillar. I was excited when I saw a small yellow, black and white banded caterpillar munching on a new milkweed shoot so I grabbed my camera to record it. While I was taking its picture, I was thinking that something seemed a bit off though from what I remembered monarch caterpillars looked like. My hunch was correct when I compared my images to those of monarch caterpillars, so now I had a mystery caterpillar eating milkweed that looked similar to a monarch caterpillar. What was it? I found out that it is a queen caterpillar. Queens have one more set of "horns", three instead of two to be exact, than monarch caterpillars. The monarch's are at each end, while the queen has an extra set near its midsection. While doing my research I also discovered that their chrysalises are almost identical. The queen's is a bit smaller and can take on a bit of a pink hue but unless they were side by side, I'm not sure I could ID which one I was looking at.