Genus Limenitis - Admirals & Viceroy
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
Family Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Subfamily Limenitidinae (Admirals, Sisters)
Tribe Limenitidini (Admirals, Sisters and Sailors)
Genus Limenitis (Admirals & Viceroy)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Limenitis Fabricius, 1807. Type-species: Papilio populi Linnaeus
Najas Hübner, 1806. TS: Papilio populi Linnaeus. Rejected as invalidly published.
Callianira Hübner, 1819. Type-species: Callianira ephestiaena (Hübner) Stoll [= L. arthemis astyanax]. Preoccupied by Callianira Péon & Lesueur, 1810, and invalid.
Nymphalis Boisduval, 1828. TS: Papilio populi Linnaeus. Preoccupied by Nymphalis Kluk, 1780, and invalid.
Nympha Krause, 1839. TS: Papilio populi Linnaeus. Junior objective synonym of Limenitis.
Nymphalis C. Felder, 1861. TS: Papilio astyanax Fabricius. Preoccupied by Nymphalis Kluk, 1780, and invalid.
Basilarchia Scudder, 1872. TS: Papilio astyanax Fabricius
Sinimia Moore, 1898. TS: Limenitis ciocolatina Poujade
Ladoga Moore, Athyma Westwood, Moduza Moore, and several others are closely related and sometimes also included as synonyms.
Explanation of Names
Some references split off the American species into a separate genus called Basilarchia. However, the Eurasian type species of the genus Limenitis, L. populi, is behaviorly, morphologically (in all stages) and genetically more closely similar to the American species than to it's other Eurasian relatives (traditionally put with it into Limenitis). Most of the other Eurasian species should probably be separated into the genus Ladoga, leaving only a few Eurasian species, plus all of the American species as genus Limenitis; Basilarchia would remain a synonym.
Number of included species depends on interpretation of the limits of the genus and limits of the species. In most treatments for North America there are four species distinguished. Some authorities would recognize only two, others would recognize five or six. For Eurasia there are one to many species (all different from those in North America), depending largely on varying interpretations of limits of the genus Limenitis.
Relatively large, very active butterflies without tails or other projections on the wing margins (hind wing sometimes slightly angled in outline). Could be confused with Sisters Adelpha (see discussions under L. lorquini and Adelpha); with Swallowtails (but there are no wing tails on Admirals); and with Queens and the Monarch Danaus (see discussions under L. archippus) and Danaus species).
The North American species, are mostly easy to distinguish from one another, as each has a distinctive color pattern. Most are dark blackish butterflies with a white band across each wing and some white, reddish, and/or bluish markings near the outer margins. Lorquin's Admirals have orange front wing tips. Weidemeyer's Admirals have the underside pale with dark veins and front wing tips dark. White Admirals are rusty brown to nearly black below and have dark front wing tips. The Red-spotted Purple is likely a mimic of the Pipevine Swallowtail (Batus philenor), and lacks the white bands, but has distinctive blue reflective coloring above and reddish spots below. The Viceroy is distinctive in being orange to rusty brown with black veins, and is a Monarch or Queen mimic (Danaus species). See the information sections and photos under each species and subspecies for more information on identification.
Some of the species tend to intergrade where they meet; intermediate individuals and even whole intermediate populations occur, often in relatively broad "blend zones". Thus, Red-spotted Purples and White Admirals blend or "intergrade" over a large area mostly in the northeastern U.S., and are considered now as one species. Weidemeyer's and Lorquin's Admirals blend into one another in an areas stretching from the Rockies of Idaho and British Columbia south across the Great Basin, and into southern Sierra Nevada. The White Admiral, at its southwestern limits, meets and blends a little with both of these. Interestingly the Weidemeyer Admiral and Southwestern Red-spotted Purple meet in southwestern mountains, and while they do hybridize, the populations show no signs of blending with one another. The Viceroy stands out and apart wherever it is found with any of the others, but still occasional hybrids with all of the other species have been found. All of the species can and do hybridize where they meet, even where they do not intergrade. Hybrids and specimens from blend zones can be very frustrating to identify; however, they can be very beautiful too.
Caterpillars and pupae are very distinctive, and not easily confused with anything else in North America. They are roughened by many small tubercles and a few pairs of large bumps and "horns"; they also have a more obvious pair of long studded horns, almost looking like "antlers" just back of the head. They tend to hold their bodies so as to look hunch-backed at the thorax, and they are colored to resemble bird droppings in shades of dark dull brown or green with white to cream colored patches. Some Swallowtail Caterpillars are similar in shape and coloring, but don't have the studded appendages of Limenitis caterpillars.
Telling the caterpillars of the various species of Limenitis from one another is very difficult. Typically only two (occasionally three) species are found in any given area, and this helps, especially since one is usually the Viceroy. Viceroy caterpillars tend to be found, almost always, on Willows or Cottonwoods near water. They average more spiny at each stage of development (except the first instar, which isn't very spiny in any of the species). They also have the pair of humps near the front of the abdomen smaller with more noticeable spines on top. Generally the long pair of spines behind the head is relatively light in color in Viceroy caterpillars, but more often much darker in other species. There are often color differences between species, but they vary from region to region. So, for instance, Viceroy caterpillars in the West have much less white coloring than other species, but in the Southeast they actually tend to have more. The remaining species and subspecies of Limenitis have caterpillars that are extremely similar, and there may be no reliable way to tell them apart. Luckily, they mostly occur in separate regions.
It should be emphasized that Identifications given here on BugGuide for immature stages of Limenitis are often tentative, and may be educated guesses at best. They are based on appearance, location, and host plant (if known), but often can only be positive if adults are obtained through rearing.
Boreal and Temperate North America and Eurasia.
Most often found in sunny openings of wooded areas near larval host plants
Most species have one adult flight in late spring / early summer, but in the south, some produce more than one generation through the summer.
Larval hosts are woody dicot species in assorted families. Poplars and Willows (Populus & Salix; family Salicaceae) are most widely used, but stone fruit and pome bearing plants such as Apple, Serviceberry, Cherry, etc. (family Rosaceae) are often used. Occasionally plants in other families have been reported as hosts (Alnus, Betula, Quercus, Tilia, Vaccinium, etc.), but some perhaps in error.
Overwinter as young larvae inside a "hibernaculum" made from a rolled part of a leaf, attached to a twig with silk.
In North America the genus Limenitis has relatively few species, is well-defined and easy to recognize. In Eurasia there are many species in several related groups of butterflies that are typically split off into different genera, but alternatively are also sometimes lumped together within Limenitis. This makes the limits and definition of the genus confused and somewhat difficult to sort out there. Most Eurasian species, except L. populi, ?L. ciocolatina, and perhaps a few others, are very different from our North American species, with very different larvae, and often pupae. Many of those are perhaps actually more closely related to our mostly tropical American Sisters (Adelpha).
In keeping with being Nymphalids, these butterflies (especially the males) tend to be active, territorial, and to show a lot of "personality". They rarely (but do sometimes) visit flowers, and love to visit mud, moist stream banks, leaking tree sap, and sometimes fecal matter or decaying animal tissue. They are often seen patroling their territories, flying up and down a stream opening, path, canyon bottom, or around the edge of a clearing, where they usually also have favorite perches part way up the sunny side of a tree or on top of a tall shrub.