Isolation, identification, and quantification of potential defensive compounds in the viceroy butterfly and its larval host-plant, Carolina willow

Kathleen L. Prudic, Smriti Khera, Anikó Sólyom, Barbara N. Timmermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The viceroy-monarch and viceroy-queen butterfly associations are classic examples of mimicry. These relationships were originally classified as Batesian, or parasitic, but were later reclassified as Müllerian, or mutalistic, based on predator bioassays. The Müllerian reclassification implies that viceroy is unpalatable because it too is chemically defended like the queen and the monarch. However, unlike the queen and the monarch, the viceroy defensive chemistry has remained uncharacterized. We demonstrate that the viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus, Nymphalidae) not only sequesters nonvolatile defensive compounds from its larval host-plant, the Carolina willow (Salix caroliniana, Salicaceae), but also secretes volatile defensive compounds when disturbed. We developed liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry-mass spectrometry methods to identify a set of phenolic glycosides shared between the adult viceroy butterfly and the Carolina willow, and solid phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry methods to identify volatile phenolic compounds released from stressed viceroy butterflies. In both approaches, all structures were characterized based on their mass spectral fragmentation patterns and confirmed with authentic standards. The phenolics we found are known to deter predator attack in other prey systems, including other willow-feeding insect species. Because these compounds have a generalized defensive function at the concentrations we described, our results are consistent with the Müllerian reclassification put forth by other researchers based on bioassay results. It seems that the viceroy butterfly possesses chemical defenses different from its monarch and queen butterfly counterparts (phenolic glycosides vs. cardiac glycosides, respectively), an unusual phenomenon in mimicry warranting future study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1149-1159
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Chemical defense
  • Chemical mimicry
  • LC/MS/MS
  • Limenitis archippus
  • Nymphalidae
  • Salicaceae
  • Salix caroliniana

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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