07/21/2020 15:34

Julie Jansen

Julie Jansen

They might not be as big or as flashy as monarchs, but these little orangish-red and black butterflies are really neat. Here are some things that make red admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) unique:

They like stinging nettle. We’ve all reached down to pull a weed and realized too late that it was a nettle. Your hand literally stings from the touch. However, red admiral caterpillars love nettles. It is their host plant, which means that is what red admirals lay eggs on and what their caterpillars eat. For all you homebrewers, caterpillars may also share your love and eat hops.

Adult red admirals will forage nectar from a variety of native flowers including asters, goldenrod, wild bergamot, milkweed and other butterfly favorites. However, unlike many species of butterflies, plant nectar is not the main food source for red admiral butterflies. They prefer to feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, animal dung and carrion.

Red admirals are quite small but beautiful. Monarch butterflies have a wingspan of 3.5-4 inches, whereas the red admiral wingspan can be as small as 1.75 inches wide. They have scalloped black-brown wings with a reddish band on the forewing, for which it gets its name. On the underside, the butterfly has better camouflage and is mottled blue, black, brown and orange.

Red admirals also migrate. Although they don’t migrate quite as far, red admirals also migrate from their northern-most regions — that can be as far north as Canada — to southern Texas to overwinter. However, some red admirals that live during the warm season in warm areas stay there through the winter as well.

Caterpillars nest. We don’t often see caterpillars do anything but crawl and eat. However, red admiral caterpillars like to stay covered. Young caterpillar live in the shelter of folded leaves while older caterpillars will make a nest of leaves tied together with silk.

Red Admiral Butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, identification guide

They might like you! Red admirals are known as people-friendly, and they may actually land and perch on humans. Be careful if one is by you as to not harm it. If you want it to leave, gently blow near it to encourage it to fly away.

Red admirals are found around the world. In addition to North America, red admirals also live in New Zealand, Europe, northern Africa and Asia. They can survive in habitats from tundra to subtropics.

They are often mistaken for other butterflies. The red admiral has more black than some other butterflies. It has a black upper forewing with a bright, diagonal red band that sometimes appears orange. It also has a red marginal band on its hindwing — the bottom wing. The lower hindwing — the underside or bottom of the lower wing — is mottled brown, black and tan.

They are hard to follow. Adult red admiral butterflies are hard to follow because they are swift flyers that are fidgety and change directions rapidly during their course of flight.

Excerpts taken from