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!