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Mimicry in the Butterfly Garden

Mimicry is when one species looks like another, often because the resemblance leads to a survival benefit. A classic example of mimicry is the similar appearance of the Monarch butterfly and the Viceroy butterfly. Many students might recall studying these species. 

Monarch caterpillars consume milkweed leaves that contain a chemical toxic to birds. Viceroy caterpillars also build up toxins from the plant leaves they eat. The chemical builds up in the caterpillar and stays in the adult, which leads them to have a serious defense against getting eaten by birds. Birds likely recognize the general pattern and avoid butterflies with the orange and black-striped wings. Both butterfly species benefit from looking like each other. 

But can you spot the differences? Which species is Butterfly A and which is Butterfly B?

Butterfly A

Underside of wings: Butterfly A on May 14, 2020


Butterfly B

Underside of wings: Butterfly B on October 7, 2019


Butterfly A

Wings (mostly) open: Butterfly A on May 14, 2020


Butterfly B

Wings open: Butterfly B on October 6, 2020

One important visual difference is the pattern of lines on the lower wings (hindwings). Once you think you can tell them apart, you can check the answer at the bottom of this post. 

The caterpillars look nothing alike and actually feed on totally different plants.

Butterfly A

This caterpillar turns into the adult "Butterfly A." It was feeding on Prairie Willow leaves in mid-April before it disappeared for about three weeks. 


Butterfly B

This caterpillar will turn into "Butterfly B." It was feeding on Marsh Milkweed.


Answer: Butterfly A is the Viceroy, Butterfly B is the Monarch

Posted by J. Cole in Teacher Topics, Middle School Years, Lower School, Classroom, Intermediate Division on Tuesday May, 19


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Oakhill Day School
7019 N. Cherry Street Gladstone, MO 64118
Phone: 816.436.6228
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