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Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

Posted by misssherry Z8/9MS (My Page) on
Tue, Jun 25, 13 at 15:31

I watched as a red-spotted purple laid eggs on a Webb's black willow (small form of S. nigra) that's growing in a large container in my garden. I've counted 8 eggs, but there could be more.

Two years ago, I found eggs on the other small willow in my garden. I raised them myself on the porch and had a lot of trouble keeping willow fresh. So, this time, I'm going to try and figure out a way to shelter the willow itself, which is going to be hard to do, because, Webb's type aside, it's still petty tall.

In 2011, I thought all the caterpillars would make red-spotted purples. Was I surprised when about half of them turned out to be viceroys! I haven't seen a viceroy on my property in about ?10 years, and, since some old butterfly books say that RSPs, white admirals and viceroys are three versions of the same butterfly (they will breed with each other) I've wondered if it's possible that all or some RSPs carry the genes for the orange butterfly known as a viceroy, like maybe from a recessive gene? I know this is highly unlikely, but I sure want to see what these willow RSPs turn out to be, just in case.
So, I'll start trying to figure out the best way to protect them. If anybody has any secrets to keeping willow leaves fresh, please let me know. My two little willows don't make many leaves, so, if they don't stay fresh, I'll have to travel every day to get them from roadside sources. As I recall, I did a lot of that with the 2011 group.

Here's a picture of two of the 2011 mixed group -

Image hosted by


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

By now, I'm guessing somebody has done DNA analysis of the 3 species but I have not seen it.

Does not seem possible that viceroys and RSPs are the same since the viceroy cats have a short host plant list while RSPs are polyphagous.

RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

As for your food supply, I suggest raising the sure RSP eggs on something besides willow.

As for the willow, I remember somebody here posting directions and pictures of how they hydrated cut willow branches. They somehow forced water into the branches until the leaves leaked water.

RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

I just remembered that when I found viceroy eggs on my Webb willow, I raised them on the tree using wedding bags. Worked out great except when the butterflies turned out to be RSPs.

Link below is a research paper discussing viceroys and RSPs. Says matings between viceroys and RSPs are very rare. Gets into DNA.

Here is a link that might be useful: Population Structure of Limenitis Butterflies in Hickman, Kentucky

RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

Urrg! Gardenweb and I are not getting along this week. I wrote a longer message and attempted to post it and it got lost in the ether. Guess the internet gods are trying to tell me something.

Anyway...yes the can interbreed. More commonly in the way south. I don't know if your area counts as that part. Here is that link;

Here is an article with pictures, though they are in black and white;

Where did you get your willow? I have an arctic willow because they stay smaller but nobody is remotely interested in it.


RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

Elisabeth, I got mine from Woodlander's, a mail-order nursery in Aiken, South Carolina.

I couldn't bring up your links, so I Googled 'viceroy and red-spotted purples mate' and found the site. Reading the article was interesting, but I didn't understand some of the scientific terms. I read one passage that said something along the lines of they really don't know about 'alleles' in a way that suggests a red-spotted purple might carry recessive genes/alleles for viceroys traits and coloring.

From the map, it looks like most of the interbreeding the article described takes place between the 30th and 31st parallels - I live between those two parallels, I'm just west of the Georgia/Florida area they researched.

I've found numerous RSP eggs on wild black cherry all over my property, and I'm raising quite a few of them in cages on my porch now. This is the first time this year any RSP has used the willows, but it happens off and on from time to time. I have the willows, because I know that viceroys use it exclusively here, although in other parts of the country they reportedly also use birches.

I have one willow in a pot, and the other one is planted in the ground. I cut the ground willow back all the way to the ground late last year, because it was ragged and unhealthy looking. It's come back this year, but it's only about 2' tall. So I put a large, metal dog crate over it, and I'll later cover it with mesh to keep wasps and other predators out. In the meantime, I think I'll use mesh to make little sleeves for the eggs, hatchlings, and small cats. Then I'll move at least some of them to the caged willow. I'd like to use the willows in case a viceroy visited without me knowing it, and some of the eggs are viceroys. If I run out of leaves, there are plenty of willows locally that I can harvest leaves from - I'd finish raising them in a cage on the porch, if that happens. I'm also wondering if the RSP that I saw laying the eggs carries viceroy genes, which is why she'd use willows? I have a nephew with red hair, even though neither of his parents have it. However, his maternal grandmother had red hair, as do his maternal uncles. This is the type of inheritance I'm thinking about here.

Anyway, I'd love to see some viceroys, regardless of how they got here. It sounded to me like the writer of the article acknowledges the lack of knowledge about this subject.



I think the white admiral is considered the genetic throw back. The viceroy developed where the monarch was more prevalent and the red-spotted purple where the pipevine swallow is. It is really wild to go north and start seeing white admirals. I think the excitement of the article was that it was possible to induce a past wing pattern and that the genes associated with it were not as complex as thought. I dunno, that was a quick read on my part. I may have another crack at it. What I did get was that speciation happened as these different butterflies lived longer in different areas. Thereby adapting to different host plants. I know before the advent of easy genetic testing, scientists studied host plants as a way of tracing evolution and separation of the different butterflies. So, the whole RSP/Viceroy/White Admiral complex is just that complex!

I saw woodlanders had the willow. It was the only site I found. So I am glad you have ordered from them. I will have to do the same.

I doubt I will see viceroys come to my yard, but I had some eggs once and because of the difficulties with willow, did not have much luck. So, the next time, I will follow your methods, keeping them on the plant. Hopefully that will help. I would like to see this butterfly do a little better in our area.


RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

I raise viceroys on willow that I bring in and put in water. I change it out daily, as it does dry out quickly. But the new growth holds up the best--the tips of the branches. Have raised several broods this way. The willow I have is a volunteer Black Willow, that has grown to about 15 feet in 5 years. I didn't see Viceroys at all last year. Saw a Viceroy out at the acreage last Friday. So I hope they are around this year and give me some cats to raise. I think it was two years ago that I left the fall brood outside and documented the hibernaculums they created. I brought in 2 cats--that emerged the next spring, and let them complete their larvae phase in captivity. They pupated and eclosed successfully. But, I haven't raised any since then.

One year I found a Red-spotted Purple on Willow in the wild. I wasn't for sure what kind of caterpillar I had found. There were a lot of RSPs flying around, so I hoped it was an RSP. It was feeding on a wild Black Willow, so I raised it on cuttings from my Black Willow. Have never found another RSP caterpillar, though I do get them in the yard.

Putting an airtight container such as a tall translucent storage container over the feeding caterpillars helps keep the cutting moist. If the container is large enough, the problem of too much moisture seems to be avoided. Plus you can remove the cover during the day if moisture seems to build up. I wrap foil around the top of the small fruit juice glass that I use for willow cuttings so the caterpillar does not get down in the glass and drown. And this helps with evaporation and condensation.


RE: Red-Spotted Purple vs. Viceroy

Thanks Sandy. Maybe I will get the chance again.

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