The real secret to learning new species of animals and plants is study and repetition, but one thing that works especially well is to focus on the 10 commonest species within each group you are trying to learn. Another is to examine the species that closely resemble each other and figure out to tell them apart. The monarch-resembling group of butterflies can be difficult at first (monarch, queen. soldier, viceroy, gulf fritillary) but there are some clues that will help. For example look at the butterfly in the photo that I took recently at Myakka State Forest. It is reddish-orange with black veins, a little darker and smaller than a monarch; it flies more erratically and is often seen around wetlands with willows. Note especially the dark line that crosses the main veins in the hindwings- a unique and distinctive feature of the VICEROY butterfly, a Muellerian mimic that is also distasteful to birds due to its diet of willows, but less so than the monarch whose caterpillar feeds on milkweeds.
An even more difficult group of similarly appearing butterflies are swallowtails & others that are black, blue and yellow and mimic the toxic pipevine swallowtails. Isn’t it amazing how these groups of mimics have evolved, and how hard they make it to learn to identify butterflies?
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA