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Each year I search desperately in butterfly gardens, hoping to catch a glimpse of a monarch butterfly. I’ll admit, there are a few butterfly species that trick me. The viceroy and queen butterflies are easy to confuse with monarchs. This guide and quiz will hopefully help you (and me) improve identification skills so that these look-alikes don’t confuse us anymore. First, learn how to distinguish monarchs from similar-looking queens and viceroys, then put your skills to the test!
Viceroy vs Monarch
Viceroy and monarch butterflies look very similar. It was once thought that the viceroy evolved to mimic the monarch, whose bright orange and black coloration is a signal to predators that the monarch tastes bad. However, more recent research has shown that the viceroy is also distasteful to predators, and so the two species are now considered “co-mimics.” By sharing the same warning colors, each species benefits from the other’s appearance, making it less likely either one will be eaten by a predator. But that makes telling them apart extra tricky for us too. The viceroy can be identified by the black line across its hindwings, which the monarch does not have. The viceroy is also a bit smaller than the monarch. As you’ll see in the quiz, the caterpillars of monarchs and viceroys are significantly different in appearance.
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The queen butterfly has white spots on its hindwings, distinguishing it from the monarch. It is also a darker color orange than monarchs. When the wings of a queen butterfly are open, it’s a bit easier to tell the two species apart. During the caterpillar phase, however, the monarch and queen are very similar. The queen caterpillar has three sets of protuberances, while the monarch caterpillar has only two sets.