A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Beneficial Insect Spotlight:  Red Admiral butterfly

The Red Admiral butterfly is also known as Vanessa atalanta and Pyrameis atalanta, and is a close relative of the Painted Lady (1).  The Red Admiral is quite common throughout most of the United States and Europe.  This species lives and dines on members of the nettle family (false nettle, stinging nettle), but also upon hops plants and butterfly bushes.   If you want to attract the Red Admiral, make sure to have these species of plants around for them to lay their eggs on and the emerging caterpillars to eat.  If you want them to stick around as adults, nectar sources include tree sap and rotten fruit, but they are also attracted to milkweed, mints, alfalfa, asters, phlox, coreoposis, and clover (2).

You can identify Red Admirals by their distinct markings.  They are darkly colored with a red stripe running through the middle of their forewing and a red stripe along the back edge of the hindwing.  The underside of the wings are mottled black, gray and brown with white spots around the apex of the forewings, allowing them to camouflage themselves. Adults can measure up to three inches across.

Red Admirals prefer moist environments, including areas around lakes, marshes and drainage locations.  They are territorial and males often guard the same area day-to-day and across several generations.  Females like to deposit their eggs near the tops of their host plants.  Adult Red Admiral butterflies also like to hibernate.

The Red Admiral butterfly is a beneficial insect because it is a widespread pollinator.  When you consider that one-third of the world’s cultivated crops depend upon the work of pollinators like butterfly and bees, and that many species of butterfly and bees have been harmed by the destruction of  their habitats and as a result of city sprawl, it becomes clear how important these butterflies really are!  In addition, butterflies are beneficial to humans for their aesthetic qualities.  Many species are brightly colored and so capture the attention and marvel of many people.  Just watching the whimsical flight of butterflies is enough to lift the spirits!

I discovered this little guy (below photos) flitting through the backyard, coming to land on the fence.  He sat there a few minutes, catching a break from the afternoon sun in the shade of the tree, and a little respite from the wind.  I’m not sure what he was after in our yard (we have none of it’s host plants and only one nectar source, the milkweed).  If he doesn’t mind coming back later this summer, I’ll have a lot more milkweed for him – a dozen cuttings just arrived from LiveMonarch.org.   In the meantime, maybe some rotted fruit would be his preference!


Comments on: "Beneficial Insect Files: Red Admiral Butterfly" (15)

  1. What beautiful coloration. I can see the resemblance to the Painted Lady, although I like this coloring better. What a great, educational post 🙂

  2. What a beauty! Thanks for the info on him–I hope I can start I.D.ing more butterflies.

  3. Just re-discovering your wonderful blog having lost it in the blogosphere for a little while 😦 I’m just learning about attracting butterflies to my garden and found this post very interesting (we have an Australian Admiral – Vanessa itea and an Australian painted lady too – Vanessa kershawi!)
    I have been scrolling through your amazing photos too – the bees laden with pollen are just wonderful 🙂

  4. Hey RR! Fantastic, informative post. And how did you get those great shots? Butterflies never sit still for my camera! This one is really pretty, and looks like a moth underneath. Awesome!

    • roundrockgarden said:

      @ Noelle: It is somewhat similar to the painted lady, but these red stripes really make the Red Admiral striking!

      @ Jenny: Thanks! I’m going to try to ID as many as I can this summer!

      @ Gipps: I’m happy that you’ve re-discovered me! I’m still learning about butterflies and how to build a better habitat for them, so maybe we can teach one another a few things along the way!

      @ Kimberley: I guess patience and a little luck! I’ve had to run after a couple to get a few pics in, but this one just sailed into the yard and went directly to the fence where she sat. She didn’t mind me taking pictures, but I was also using a zoom!

  5. I was delighted to see this post. Now I have identified the hundreds of butterflies in my garden at the moment. Thanks.

    • roundrockgarden said:

      WOW! That is so awesome! The greatest number of butterflies you’ve ever seen in your garden? That’s encouraging news. It seems all of the insects have benefited from el nino – even the pests! Now you make me want to go out and check my tomato plants. I found a few spotted cucumber beetles tonight on my zucchini and squash. Had to chase them off.

  6. Thank you so much for this wonderful post and pictures of your visiting red admiral. I’m just starting out gardening and we have a pair of red admirals that we see nearly every day, one often sits on our hands and heads! I did not know they were pollinators and I appreciate them all the more.

  7. I am out in Leander and have tons of them on my flowering shrubs (common type the builder put in front) I have never had any in my yard before this year- even when my big butterfly bush was alive. They are beautiful. There must have been 30 if there was one. Only thing I can think of is our damp Spring…sources say they favor damp areas.

    • roundrockgarden said:

      We’ve seen quite a few here in Round Rock this year as well. I really think the dampness and the earlier than usual warmer temperatures helped give them a good head start this year. They come through the yard feeding on the rose bush and parsley flowers. I have seen quite a few nettles in the neighborhood park, which borders a small pond, so this has to be where ours are coming from! Thanks for reading, and for the comment, Lillian.

  8. Frank Bonniwell said:

    Have had hundreds of Red Admirals in our backyard feeding on flowering wax legustrums for about ten days, Beautiful sight. We are located in south austin south of Wm Cannon and north of Ditmar off Lunar.

    • roundrockgarden said:

      How awesome, Frank! I’m really astonished at how huge their populations are this year. They really show no favoritism in my garden … verbena, rose, zexmenia, parsley, salvia, copper canyon daisies, they’re sampling them all. And they love to puddle …

  9. I think that “common shrub” must be the “ninebark” plant–The red admirals show up 20 to 30 at a time when its fragrant blooms are not destroyed by rain or wind. They meet and mate around it. I had never seen so many at once. They totally ignore my mint and the local bird poop but they do like maple sap.

    • roundrockgarden said:

      I’ve been reading reports from Texas to Indiana about huge numbers of admirals this year. Others have mentioned ninebark as a popular nectaring spot, so I’m not surprised that they’re also mating near such a densly flowering plant! I wish I was seeing as many monarchs, but I have had at least a couple dozen cats already mature and move on … Thanks for the comment, Val.

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