Somewhere in this photo is a Polygonia comma butterfly - an Eastern Comma. You might be thinking 'but it's too cold out for butterflies, there's snow on the ground', and generally you'd be right but the Eastern Comma is one of the unique species that can hibernate through winter and wake up to feed on the earliest of the spring wildflowers!
"Overwintered adults fly and lay eggs in the spring until the end of April. The summer form emerges and flies from May-September, laying eggs that develop into the winter form. These adults appear in September or October and soon seek shelter in which to overwinter."
Monarch season will soon be upon us and as we diligently check every milkweed plant we see in the hope of finding a caterpillar, or even better a chrysalis, to admire and observe, there is another butterfly to keep an eye out for... The Viceroy!
While the similarities are unmistakable the Monarch and Viceroy are two completely different species - the Monarch is Danaus plexippus where as the Viceroy is Limenitis archippus.
How to tell the difference?
One way is to find the distinctive black stripe along the bottom wings of the Viceroy, Monarchs don't have the stripe.
Size (not represented accurately in the photographs) Viceroys are generally about an inch smaller than Monarchs
Other neat facts
Viceroys do not migrate. They overwinter as 1st or 2nd instar larvae, rolled up in a leaf of their host plant (willow or poplar). In the spring, the larvae need about 15 days to complete the life cycle and become a butterfly. They must develop through the remaining instars (approximately 5 days) and the chrysalis stage (at least 10 days).
Monarchs and Viceroy are Müllerian mimics, meaning two equally toxic species that take on similar characteristics to benefit themselves.
Next time you're out in the field take a moment to see if you can spot both species this time of year.
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Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who spends her time exploring and learning about the unique history and nature in North East Ohio. She lives with her husband and cat in Wooster where she is also a family portrait and nature photographer as well as grows and cans her own vegetables. When she's not doing that, yoga and embroidery (not at the same time) are other things she enjoys.