Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 1149–1159 | Cite as

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


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.


Chemical defense Chemical mimicry Limenitis archippus LC/MS/MS Nymphalidae Salix caroliniana Salicaceae SPME-GC/MS 



We thank J. Oliver for assistance in collecting the specimen; J. Gu, B. Jackson, R. Lindroth, C. Orians, and V. Rodriguez for assistance in chemistry; D. Bowers, D. Papaj, and D. Ritland for discussion; and the late Hon. M. Rothschild for enthusiasm and insight. This work was funded by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, a University of Arizona Center for Insect Science Graduate Research Grant, and a University of Arizona BIO5 Fellowship to K.L.P.

Supplementary material

10886_2007_9282_MOESM1_ESM.doc (788 kb)
Supplementary Material Fig. 1 Digital image of solid phase micro-extraction (SPME) setup. The position of the butterfly pinned between the glass plate and the beaker simulated a predation event. In a non-predatory event, the butterfly was allowed to perch freely on the glass plate during the SPME sampling bout. (DOC 807 kb)
10886_2007_9282_MOESM2_ESM.doc (798 kb)
Supplementary Material Fig. 2 Digital image of secretion when butterfly experiences a predation event. One μl of the secretion was collected using a glass capillary for the GC-MS quantification analyses. (DOC 817 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen L. Prudic
    • 1
    • 2
  • Smriti Khera
    • 3
  • Anikó Sólyom
    • 3
  • Barbara N. Timmermann
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.BIO5: Institute for Collaborative BioresearchUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, College of PharmacyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Medicinal ChemistryUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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