Family: Nymphalidae (Nymphalinae) - Nymphs
Order: Lepidoptera - Butterflies and Moths
Red List status: Not listed
Length (Larva): 35 mm
Widespread from North America east to Iran, including all of Europe and northern Africa, and south to Tunisia and Guatemala. Resident only in the southern part of this range, but occurring as a regular and common migrant in Britain, northern North America, Ireland and northern Scandinavia. Introduced to New Zealand and Haiti.
Adult: A highly distinctive butterfly identified by its black wing tips with strongly contrasting red or orange bands running across each forewing. A pattern of white blotches is present between in the corner of each forewing, between the tip and the red band. A thick band of the same red or orange colour runs across the base of the hindwing, with a regular line of dark spots along the midline of this band. Females resemble males.
The underside of the forewing resembles the upperside, with the red band visible in dark pink, which may be partially hidden behind the more cryptically-patterned hindwing at rest. The underside of the hindwing is grey-brown with indistinct wavy patterning, becoming blue-grey towards the base and along the rear edge. There is a large cream-white marking near the centre of the hindwing's leading edge.
Larva: Red admiral caterpillars are thick-set, with a concentric row of spines along each body segment that makes them relatively easy to identify. There is a stripe along each flank, which is usually yellow but may be white.
Similar species: Adult red admirals are unlikely to be mistaken for any other butterfly in most of their range. The similar Indian red admiral (Vanessa indica) can normally be distinguished by its distribution, as this species occurs no further west than India except for isolated colonies on the Canary Islands and Madeira. This species has thicker red forewing bands; unlike V. atalanta, these bands are broken with several large, irregular black blotches. There is also less white in the corner of the forewing.
The red admiral occurs over a wide range of habitat types and altitudes, from coastal lowlands to montane areas, and woodland to urban centres. Animals can often be abundant in gardens and orchards where rich sources of nectar are present, and are not restricted to areas with available larval food plants.
Elevation: 0-2,500 m
Larval food plants: Nettles (Urtica sp.) and pellitories (genus Parietaria), both members of the family Urticaceae. Species identity of host plants varies within the red admiral's wide range, but include species that are abundant in disturbed, woodland and grassland habitats.
The red admiral is a low-flying butterfly most commonly encountered basking, or feeding on nectar-rich plants such as ivy (Hedera helix), bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.), hemp-agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) and, in gardens, ornamental buddleias (Buddleia davidii) and stonecrops (Sedum spp.). Individuals favour tree trunks as resting and overwintering sites, where their cryptic underwings may make them difficult to detect.
Courtship and mating behaviour is rarely observed, and it has been suggested that animals may breed immediately after emerging from hibernation.
Flight season: May/June to October/November, often being among the last butterflies active in northern Europe. Adults may overwinter in many areas, emerging in March and April.
Breeding biology: Red admirals are univoltine in Europe, but may have two broods in the United States. Eggs are laid singly on the upper surface of food plant leaves.
Life cycle: Young hatch after about a week in good summer weather, and caterpillars pass through five instars. Larval red admirals forage within a 'leaf tent' created from a folded nettle leaf, in which they will often pupate. Adults emerge from the pupae within 2-3 weeks. In some cases, animals may overwinter as eggs or caterpillars as far north as southern England.
Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G. & Jeffcoate, S. (2001) The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Carter, D. (1992) Butterflies and moths. Dorling
Carter, D. & Hargreaves, B. (1986) A field guide to caterpillars of butterflies and moths in Britain and Europe. William Collins & Sons Ltd, London.
Vanessa atalanta, Wikipedia
Vanessa atalanta nectar-feeding.