Red Admiral: All You Need to Know and More for Butterfly Enthusiasts

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a striking butterfly species commonly found across North America and parts of Europe. Known for its distinct appearance, this medium-sized butterfly features black wings adorned with bold orange to red markings and a row of white spots on the forewing tips US Forest Service.

These captivating insects typically inhabit moist, forested areas and wetlands, where their primary food source, nettle plants, can be found. As they have a migration pattern and reproduction cycle similar to the American lady butterfly, you can expect to see Red Admirals flying around from March to November MDC Teacher Portal. Their larvae play a unique role in their ecosystem, as they create small nests by rolling over leaves of host plants and using silk to bind the edges.

Some interesting characteristics of the Red Admiral include:

  • Open wingspan between 1 3/4 – 3 inches (4.5 – 7.6 cm)
  • 2 or 3 broods throughout the season
  • Females lay eggs singly on host plant leaves

The Red Admiral butterfly is a fascinating creature that combines remarkable beauty with intricate ecological importance. Through understanding and appreciating this species, people can foster a deeper connection with the natural world.

Red Admiral Identification and Physical Features

Color and Patterns

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a butterfly species known for its distinct coloration and patterns. Adults have:

  • A black background color on their wings
  • Orange to red colored stripes that form marginal bands on the forewings and hindwings
  • White spots on the tips of the forewings1
  • A mottled dark pattern on the hindwings when seen from below2

Males and females have similar color patterns, making it difficult to distinguish between the two.

Wingspan and Size

Red Admiral butterflies display a wingspan that ranges from 1 3/4 to 3 inches (4.5 – 7.6 cm)1. Some key features include:

  • Relatively small size compared to other butterflies
  • Rounded, scalloped wings
  • Prominent bands and wing markings

Habitat and Distribution

North America

Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) can be found in North America, specifically in central Canada through the Mexican highlands to Guatemala. They prefer habitats such as:

  • Rich, moist bottomland woods
  • Wetlands in forest ecosystems

These environments provide Red Admirals with essential resources like water, minerals, and sugars.

Europe

In Europe, Red Admirals are commonly found in gardens and woodland areas. The butterfly can thrive in various climates and can be found in some Mediterranean regions as well.

Asia

Red Admirals are also present in Asia, where they are known to inhabit a variety of ecosystems. Though they usually prefer moist, forested areas, their adaptability means they can be found in urban settings like gardens too.

North Africa

In North Africa, Red Admirals are more common in cooler, mountainous regions. They are attracted to gardens and woodland areas where their host plants thrive.

Key Features of Red Admirals:

  • Open wingspan ranging from 1 3/4 – 3 inches (4.5 – 7.6 cm)
  • Black background coloring with orange to red colored stripes
  • White spots on the forewing tips
  • Dark mottled pattern on the hindwing, seen from below
  • Highly adaptable to different climates and habitats

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs

Red Admiral butterflies lay light green eggs with a series of white vertical ridges. Females lay eggs singly on the leaves of host plants.

Caterpillars

Once hatched, the larvae grow up to 1.4 inches in length, with high variability in color. They feed on these host plants:

  • Stinging nettle
  • False nettle
  • Pearly everlasting plants

Caterpillars create their shelters by rolling over leaves and using silk to bind the edges together.

Pupa

As they develop, the caterpillars form a pupa inside their leafy shelters, transitioning towards becoming adult butterflies.

Adult Butterflies

Red Admiral butterflies have an open wingspan ranging from 1 3/4 – 3 inches. Their background color is black, with striking orange to red colored stripes creating marginal bands on their wings.

These butterflies have a migratory life cycle similar to the American lady butterfly; they arrive from the south in March and continue to fly into November. They produce 2 or 3 broods during this time.

Footnotes

  1. The Red Admiral Butterfly – US Forest Service 2

  2. Red Admiral | Missouri Department of Conservation

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY: Red Admiral and Painted Ladies

 

Red Admiral photos (Vanessa atalanta)
Location: Naperville, IL
May 10, 2012 11:35 am
Hi Daniel~
These are three photos from last week of a Red Admiral visiting English bluebells in the morning sun. I often find several Red Admirals in the company of a group of Painted Ladies, and it’s my understanding that they are of the same genus, Vanessa. I like the idea that they’re fraternizing! I’ll send along one additional photo from two years ago – it’s special only because it shows the Red Admiral with its wings closed.
All the best,
Signature: -Dori Eldridge

Red Admiral and Painted Ladies on English Blue Bells

Dear Dori,
Your Red Admiral photos are positively gorgeous and we have decided to make them into our Mother’s Day greeting.  Happy Mother’s Day all you Moms out there.

Red Admirable on English Blue Bells

Dear Daniel~
Well, I am truly honored.  Thank you, and have a lovely weekend.

 

Letter 2 – Possibly Indian Red Admiral Caterpillars from India

 

Subject: Caterpillar ID
Location: Sikkim, India
October 27, 2015 3:02 am
These spiky black caterpillars were found aggregated on nettles
Richard

Probably Indian Red Admiral Caterpillars
Possibly Indian Red Admiral Caterpillars

Dear Richard,
Thanks for supplying the name of the food plant.  Butterflies in the genus
Vanessa feed on nettles, and we suspect your caterpillars are probably Vanessa indica, the Indian Red Admiral or another member of the genus.  According to the Learn About Butterflies site:  “The larval foodplants in include Urtica, Girardinia and Boehmeria.”  According to Herb Wisdom, mettles are in the genus Urtica.

Letter 3 – Red Admirable

 

New Red “Admirable” Pics.
Location:  SE Michigan
September 7, 2010 10:25 am
Dear Bugman: As per your recent mention of not receiving any new photos of Red ”Admirables” lately, I am submitting these two, to fill the void. Both of these Red Admirals were shot in SE Michigan. The under-wing closeup was taken in my backyard, on a Buddleia bush. The other was shot in a field at an area Metro Park, along Lake Erie. The colors and iridescence on the close-up butterfly were spectacular, making me wonder if it was very recently emerged. Not a single wing scale was out of place and it was very calm and content, allowing me to take many super close-ups.
Signature:  Christine

Red Admiral

Hi Christine,
Though we don’t expect to convince the world to begin calling this cheerful butterfly a Red Admirable instead of the accepted Red Admiral, we cannot help but to be amused by Vladimir Nabokov’s wry sense of humor and his play on words when he coined the alternative name.  Thank you so much for correcting the void in our archives due to the ongoing dearth of recent images of
Vanessa atalanta.

Letter 4 – Red Admirable

 

Butterfly
Location: my frontyard
March 15, 2011 8:04 pm
what kind of butterfly is this
Signature: n/a

Red Admiral

Dear n/a,
We are often amazed at the lack of information that some people provide when requesting identifications.  There are numerous reasons that a location field is provided on our form, but knowing where a sighting occurred often helps us to narrow down the identification possibilities, thus simplifying the identification process.  While it is great that this butterfly was seen in your front yard, it would be far more helpful for us to at least know what continent your front yard is located on and it wouldn’t influence our identification if this butterfly was photographed in your back yard or even your neighbor’s yard.  Your signature inclines us to believe that you want to maintain your anonymity, which is perfectly fine with us, and that might also explain your reluctance to include a relevant location.  The sparse wording of your request indicates that perhaps you are in a hurry, and you can’t be bothered taking the time to compose a complete sentence other than the demanding phrase that you typed out, and we understand that for personal and professional reasons, many people do not have the luxury of composing a tome when they submit a question.  There is an understanding that questions and images submitted to our website may be posted online, and publication is something that should be taken seriously.  Now that we have chastised you, we can tell you that this beauty is a Red Admiral,
Vanessa atalanta, though we much prefer the name Red Admirable that was coined by our favorite author and amateur lepidopterist, Vladimir Nabokov.  Your front yard might be in California, or Virginia, or Moscow, because the Red Admiral can be found around the world in the Northern Hemisphere.  According to the University of Michigan Animal Diversity website, it has also been introduced to New Zealand where it breeds.  Vladimir Nabokov also stated in a 1970 interview that the Red Admiral is known as the Butterfly of Doom in Russia because large numbers migrated in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.

Letter 5 – Red Admirable: Vladimir Nabokov’s favorite butterfly!!!

 

ALERT:  We just found the most beautiful butterfly collection on the planet.
September 5, 3:50 PM.
Nabokov’s Butterfly Collection.  It includes his favorite butterfly, The Red Admirable.

Red Admirable from the Archives

Letter 6 – Red Admiral

 

hope you can help identify this bug
I saw this insect hanging around on the east side of the house on a sunny day in early September. Can you identify it for me? Thank you.

This lovely, rapid flying butterfly is a Red Admiral, though amateur lepidopterist, wordmeister and author of Lolita Vladimir Nabakov referred to it as the Red Admirable. In our Mount Washington, Los Angeles offices, this butterfly is often found alighting on the hose in the late afternoon sun.

Letter 7 – Red Admiral

 

Red Admiral
My daughters found this beauty in our yard today – thanks to your site I was able to identify it! Incidentally, my children love your site whenever they find a new bug they ask to ‘find it on the bug page’!
Kris L.

Hi Kris,
Your Red Admiral images are gorgeous. It is wonderful that you captured an open and closed wing view. It is really difficult for us to try to pick our favorite butterfly, but if faced with that decision, we would probably choose the Red Admiral. There are larger, showier and more beautiful butterflies, but there are few with the cheerful personality of this beauty. In our yard, each year a new generation appears, and they definitely exhibit unusual behavior. One of the most charming is sunning themselves on our garden hose in the late afternoon hours.

Letter 8 – Red Admiral

 

Red Admiral
Hi — Here’s a butterfly that I don’t see too often — a Red Admiral, I believe.
Susan Rockwell
Alva, FL

Hi Susan,
You are correct with your Red Admiral identification. These are seemingly fearless butterflies that frequently return to the same location to soak in the sun. For some reason, in our Mt. Washington, Los Angeles garden, they frequented the green hose in the front yard. When we bought a black hose, it was no longer attractive.

Letter 9 – Red Admiral

 

What kind of butterfly?
Your site is awesome! After reading all the different kinds, I thought maybe this was a skipper. This butterfly let me take many pictures, even landing on my leg for a few shots! I really enjoy this picture on the pine leaves. (It looks better upside down!) We live in Elk River, MN, about 36 miles NW of the Minneapolis. Seems we had a lot of butterflies this July, 2007!
Joyce

Hi Joyce,
This fearless butterfly is a Red Admiral, though we are quite fond of author Vladimir Nabokov’s name of Red Admirable.

Letter 10 – Red Admiral

 

need Identifacation of Butterfly
Hi, I live in South Florida and found this beauty getting a little sweet drink from my hummingbird feeder. I have never seen this one and was unable to find the name. Thanks for any help.
Dave

Hi Dave,
In our opinion, the Red Admiral is the most fearless of butterflies. We also love that noted author and amateur lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov liked to call this lovely butterfly the Red Admirable.

Letter 11 – Red Admiral

 

Red Admirals, Bay Shore, NY
I know you prefer current photos (as they are found) but it’s still too cold here in NY for most of the insects to come out. I am waiting eagerly for them to show up! Here are a couple of Red Admiral photos from last summer(2007) when they came to feed and hang out on our shrubs around the house. If you can use them, please do. Otherwise, enjoy the photos.
Tamar

Hi Tamar,
Though it is too cold in New York for Red Admirals right now, they are flying in our own Mt Washington, Los Angeles garden. Readers in warmer climates might benefit from your images. The open winged photo demonstrates the typical sunning posture of this frisky species.

Letter 12 – Red Admiral

 

what happened to this butterfly?
what happened to this butterfly?

This is a newly metamorphosed Red Admiral. The oozing
fluid is a biproduct of metamorphosis.

Letter 13 – Red Admiral

 

Butterfly or Moth
Location: St. Petersburg, FL
June 8, 2011 8:19 pm
Hi. This evening I saw what I thought was a butterfly in my yard, but after looking at pictures and trying to identify it, now I’m not sure what it is. It seems to have two ”legs” that I do not see on any of the butterfly or moth photos online.
This sighting occurred in St. Petersburg, FL at approximately 6:15 p.m. on June 8. It landed on one of my potted plants and stayed there (slowly ’flapping’ its wings) for a minute or two.
Signature: Stephanie

Red Admiral

Dear Stephanie,
We wonder if perhaps you are confusing the antennae for legs.  This is a Red Admiral Butterfly, and it has a coast to coast distribution in North America, and it is also found in Eurasia and in Russia, according to Vladimir Nabokov, it is known as the Butterfly of Doom because in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated,  great numbers of Red Admirals migrated.

Hi, Daniel.
Thank you so much for the identification!  I’ve never heard of a Red Admiral but I feel blessed to have seen this beautiful creature in my yard.
The ‘legs’ I referred to are shown below in my photo (with the arrows).  None of the photos of butterflies that I viewed online showed these ‘protrusions.’  (see example on the right.)  My butterfly looks like a little bat!  I’m thinking maybe there is another set of lower wings that aren’t fully extended …
Thanks again for your help.
Stephanie

Hi Stephanie,
Your butterfly has damaged wings, and the vestiges of the wings were mistakenly identified as legs.

Letter 14 – Red Admiral

 

butterfly or moth
Location: Benton, AR
August 23, 2011 7:03 pm
I say butterfly and son says moth. Searched through pics til I wore myself out last night. Interesting little critter who did a marvelous job of posing. How bout settling the question and tell us more about this specimen. Thanks,
Ron Dupree
Signature: I am usually right.

Red Admiral

Dear Ron,
You are correct, but we hope you don’t gloat over this.  In your son’s defense, lists that try to oversimplify distinguishing a butterfly from a moth often cite the wing position as a factor.  Generally, moths rest with wings open, like this Red Admiral butterfly, and butterflies generally rest with wings folded over the body.  This may have led to your son’s confusion.  The Red Admiral was one of author Vladimir Nabokov’s favorite butterflies, and he poetically called it the Red Admirable, though in Russia it is also known as the Butterfly of Doom because great numbers migrated in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.

I won’t gloat……….much.  We enjoy good-natured kidding and, as the one who has been around a bit more than my son, I am usually right but always ready to be corrected.  In fairness, I noted the folded wing position a few times also.  Thanks for making our wildlife viewing more enjoyable.  You do a good service…..keep up the good work.

We wanted to come back to this positively gorgeous butterfly.  Dark butterflies often spread their wings in the sun to absorb heat.  Dark Nymphalids, the Brush Footed Butterflies, often hibernate.  Red Admirals might hibernate, but Mourning Cloaks definitely do.  Butterflies that rest with their wings open often do so to absorb warmth.

Letter 15 – Red Admiral

 

Subject: Thirsty Red Admiral
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
December 5, 2012 10:38 pm
Among the butterflies drinking water droplets in the garden today was this beautiful butterfly. Is it a Brushfooted butterfly, a Red Admiral? Our dry spell continues with warm temps and a cloudless sky today.
Signature: Ellen

Red Admiral

Hi Ellen,
We have already gone on record with our opinion that the Red Spotted Purple is the loveliest North American Butterfly, but we have to say that no North American butterfly has more personality than the Red Admiral.

Red Admiral

 

Letter 16 – Red Admiral

 

Subject: Red Admiral Butterfly?
Location: Coryell County, Central Texas
April 9, 2015 3:51 pm
Hello! You identified a Red Admiral for me several years ago, and I believe that’s what these are. I’m not sure if these photos all show the same individual. We are seeing a lot of these butterflies right now. Spring rains have yielded many flowers, including these Pinkie Indian Hawthorns and our neighbors’ Red Tip Photinias, another favorite of these butterflies. I saw online that Red Admiral larvae eat nettles; we have soooo many nettles, and the caterpillars are more than welcome to them!
The temperature is 80 degrees F, and we’re enjoying partly cloudy skies ahead of a supposedly severe thunderstorm to occur in a few hours.
Thank you and best wishes!
Signature: Ellen

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Hi Ellen,
It is very nice to hear from you and your Red Admiral images are a wonderful addition to our spring postings.  This spring we have been watching several Red Admirals in our own garden where they appear on sunny afternoons.  We don’t witness nectaring activity, but rather territorial battling with individuals attempting to chase one another away.

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Letter 17 – Red Admiral

 

Subject: More Butterflies at the Beach
Location: Aransas Pass, Texas
May 4, 2015 9:13 am
Thank you so much for your help with the American Lady Butterfly! I hadn’t photographed one before.
We saw many, many butterflies on our trip to Corpus Christi, including a large number of Red Admirals. Here are some photos of a Red Admiral nectaring on Lantana at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute at Aransas Pass, Texas.
Thank you and best wishes!
Signature: Ellen

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Hi Ellen,
We are thrilled to be able to post images of butterflies you encountered on your road trip.

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Subject: Butterflies on the way to the Beach
Location: Pleasanton, Texas
May 4, 2015 9:18 am
Side note…
We stopped for gasoline at a mini mart south of Pleasanton, Texas, on our way to the Corpus Christi, and saw many Red Admirals puddling in the parking lot and visiting the trees edging the lot. Beauty at the quick stop! They definitely dressed up the place.
I saw at least ten Red Admirals within thirty minutes yesterday as I sat on the back porch at our home. Amazing this spring, so many butterflies!
Thank you and take care.
Signature: Ellen

Red Admiral Puddling
Red Admiral Puddling

Hi again Ellen,
Puddling, Butterflies taking moisture from damp soil and mud puddles is such a wonderful phenomenon to observe, especially in situations where there are multiple species and large numbers of individuals.

Red Admiral Puddling
Red Admiral Puddling

Letter 18 – Red Admiral

 

Subject: What butterfly is this?
Location: Rochester, New York
June 8, 2015 4:53 pm
Hey, Bugman. Love the site. I come on a lot! Could you please tell me what butterfly this is? Thanks!
Signature: ?

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Your beautiful butterfly is a Red Admiral, a species found across North America and much of Eurasia.  As your finger perching individual demonstrates, this is arguably the North American butterfly with the most “personality” and they don’t really seem to fear humans.

Letter 19 – Red Admiral

 

Subject: Red admiral camoflage
Location: Troy, VA
August 31, 2016 8:47 am
I thought you might like these photos I took of a red admiral beautifully camoflaged against tree bark. I saw the butterfly land and grabbed my camera. When I looked through the viewfinder, it had disappeared. I looked again and realized it was just magnificently camoflaged. Looking at it with the naked eye, it was invisible. I’ve included one photo of the butterfly with its wings open.
Signature: Grace Pedalino

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Dear Grace,
Thanks for sending us your marvelous images illustrating the camouflage ability of the Red Admiral.  Many butterflies with brightly colored wings have brown, camouflage patterns on the undersides, including morphos, leaf butterflies and anglewings.

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Letter 20 – Red Admiral and Ants feeding on sap

 

Butterfly and Ants on Oak Gall
Location: Iowa, United States
April 21, 2012 4:53 pm
Hello,
I thought you might like this interesting picture of a painted lady butterfly on an Oak gall along with many ants. Whenever an ant left, its abdomen was a lot bigger than when it got there! You can’t see in the first picture, but in the second one you can see how some of the ant’s abdomens are full of sap (the ant on the tree branch to the right of the gall).
Signature: Michelle Lynn

Red Admiral and Ants

Hi Michelle,
Your photo is quite fascinating, but a few corrections are in order.  The butterfly is in the “Lady” genus
Vanessa, however it is actually the Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta.  You can compare the under side of the wings to this photo from BugGuideMany butterflies and indeed other insects are known to feed on oozing sap.  We don’t believe this is the result of a gall.  We don’t know what is causing the formation in the photo, but is doesn’t appear to be an insect gall to us.

Letter 21 – Red Admiral Butterfly in Mt Washington

 

Red Admiral
November 13, 2011
We were enjoying the beautiful fall sunshine and warm weather in the garden and we watched this Red Admiral alight on the wood pile to sun itself, soaking up the warmth by aiming its dark wings at the sun.  When another Red Admiral approached the wood pile, this possessive individual flew off to do butterfly battle and quickly returned to guard its territory.  We had a recent conversation with noted lepidopterist Julian Donahue who lives nearby as we were discussing butterflies and native plants to be planted in Elyria Canyon Park with funding the Mt Washington Beautification committee received from the Los Angeles Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).  Julian was not aware that Red Admirals are common in the neighborhood, so we informed him that they are frequent visitors to our gardens at the What’s That Bug? offices, a scant fifteen minute walk from Julian’s house.  We are thrilled we got this photo to document the Red Admiral’s presence in Mt Washington.  This guy’s wings are a bit tattered, but that didn’t prevent it from exhibiting the spunkiness we associate with this lovely Brush Footed Butterfly.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Letter 22 – Red Admiral from the UK

 

Subject: Red Admiral Butterfly
Location: Lancashire, UK
August 4, 2015 5:20 am
Hey Bugman,
found this beautiful butterfly (which I believe is a Red Admiral) yesterday while I was out running. It seemed very docile and only flew off when I moved in closer, was in the same spot when I was on the way back. ^^ Just thought I’d submit it. 🙂
Signature: Hope you like. Jordan.

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Dear Jordan,
Though we are quite aware that the Red Admiral is found throughout the northern hemisphere, most of the images on our site are from North America, so your UK submission is a great addition to our site.  According to UK Butterflies:  “The Red Admiral is a frequent visitor to gardens throughout the British Isles and one of our most well-known butterflies. This butterfly is unmistakable, with the velvety black wings intersected by striking red bands.  This butterfly is primarily a migrant to our shores, although sightings of individuals and immature stages in the first few months of the year, especially in the south of England, mean that this butterfly is now considered resident. This resident population is considered to only be a small fraction of the population seen in the British Isles, which gets topped up every year with migrants arriving in May and June that originate in central Europe. Unfortunately, most individuals are unable to survive our winter, especially in the cooler regions of the British Isles.  The number of adults seen in any one year is therefore dependent on the number of migrants reaching the British Isles and numbers fluctuate as a result. In some years this butterfly can be widespread and common, in others rather local and scarce.” 

Letter 23 – Red Admiral in Mount Washington

 

Subject:  Red Admiral
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
July 5, 2015
We love Red Admiral butterflies.  In our opinion, they have more personality than just about any other butterfly.

Red Admiral
Red Admiral
Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Letter 24 – Red Admiral from Israel

 

Subject: Beautiful butterfly
Location: Raanana, Israel
May 10, 2014 2:26 pm
Hello
I found this beautiful, colorful butterfly in a garden in Raanana, central Israel.
Can you please identify it?
Sorry about the picture quality, all I had was a cell phone camera, plus I was keeping my distance to avoid scaring it off.
Thank you
Signature: Gal

Red Admiral
Red Admiral

Dear Gal,
This is a Red Admiral butterfly, a species found worldwide across the northern hemisphere.

Letter 25 – Red Admiral puddling

 

Subject: Red admiral proboscis
Location: Troy, VA
June 24, 2016 10:25 am
I know that the red admiral is not a rare butterfly, but I thought I would submit this picture because you can see his proboscis fairly clearly and really, his antennae are lovely.
Signature: Grace Pedalino

Red Admiral Puddling
Red Admiral Puddling

Dear Grace,
Rarity is not a criterion for posting to our site.  Actually, if the truth be made known, the Red Admiral is one of our favorite butterflies.  Perhaps it is because they and Mourning Cloaks are so long lived that they seem to have so much more personality than other butterflies.  Famed author and amateur lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov playfully referred to the Red Admiral as the Red Admirable.  Your individual appears to be puddling, taking moisture and also important minerals, from the mud.

Letter 26 – Red Admiral Rescued from Office Building!!!

 

Rescued this little guy trapped in my office
Location: Toronto, Canada
April 30, 2012 11:10 pm
This little guy found his way into my office today, some 200 feet from the nearest entrance. No idea how he did it, but I was able to coax him into a plastic cup and I took him outside. What species is it? He had a pretty bold orange dot on the front of his wings, and a white stripe towards the tip. He was about an inch long. I can’t tell if he’s a moth or butterfly.
Signature: Mothman

Red Admiral

Dear Mothman,
This photo is not ideal for identification purposes, however, we are nearly certain that you rescued a Red Admiral,
Vanessa atalanta.  We would not discount another member of the genus known as the Painted Ladies.  For your valiant rescue, we are tagging this submission with the Bug Humanitarian Award.

That’s it! Thanks a bunch! Wikipedia has a much better image of his wings (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4e/Red_Admiral_0625c.jpg)

Letter 27 – Red Admirals in New York

 

moth/butterfly?
Location: New York City, Manhattan
May 15, 2012 3:52 pm
Hello,
My husband and I noticed many groups of these flying around the park last week (on 5/11/12) in New York City. We’re used to seeing 1 or 2 at a time, but these were flying in groups of 4-6 and there seemed to be several groups as we proceeded down the block on our walk. We were curious as to what they might be – moth or butterfly and type? If you could please help us, we’d greatly appreciate it.
Thank You!
Signature: Nat

Red Admirals

Hi Nat,
These are Red Admiral Butterflies and they are swarming in great numbers throughout much of eastern North America.  For unknown reasons, some years we experience such population explosions.  Here is an excellent article from NJ.com.

Thank you so much! I’m looking forward to reading more about this.

Letter 28 – Red Admirals swarm eastern North America

 

Red Admiral population explosion
Location: St. Catharines (near Niagara Falls, Ontario)
May 3, 2012 10:13 am
Hello,
I thought you might be interested to know we have a Red Admiral population explosion going on here! I understand it is in most of eastern North America. I have never, in my few years of butterfly-watching, seen Red Admirals in these numbers. They are everywhere, in the numbers one usually sees only with the Sulphers in August. I’m not sure what the reason for it is (perhaps you’ve heard?) but I am enjoying it. Seeing one butterfly always brightens my day, but seeing dozens on my way into work is simply stunning!
(I snapped this pic on my visit to a local wetlands Sunday. She/He was a very obliging butterfly!)
Signature: Alison

Red Admiral

Dear Allison,
The Red Admiral is surely a jaunty and cheerful butterfly, actually one of the Ladies in the genus
Vanessa in drag.  Vladimir Nabokov, the noted author of Pale Fire, referred to them as the Red Admirables in that playful way he had with words.  He also said in a 1970 interview that in Russia the Red Admiral is known as the Butterfly of Doom because in 1881 when Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, large numbers of them migrated.  We hope there is no ill wind behind you sighting. 

Ed. Note:  Please send us your Red Admiral photos and the locations of your spring 2012 sightings.

Another Ed. Note:  We just located this fun old posting.

 

Letter 29 – Red Admirals visit St. Francis in Minnesota!!!

 

Red Admiral Influx
Location: Central MN
May 5, 2012 3:05 pm
Hi Bug Nuts!
To add to you Red Admiral explosion file: Even our St. Franny statue attracts them!
In over fifty years of watching butterflies – and frequently bemoaning the poor populations of butterflies during our wet, cold Minnesota springs – I have never seen butterfly numbers like this. They are a constant stream through our country now. I’m so glad they’re as striking a species as the red admiral. I hope I don’t get tired of them!
And it is not just the red admirals. I saw 12 species on the 30th of April, including monarchs.
Thanks for celebrating this ”buggy” spring!
Don J. Dinndorf
St. Augusta, MN
Signature: Don J. Dinndorf

Red Admiral

Hi Don,
Thank you so much for writing in with your Red Admiral sighting.  Though he was a lover of nature and he is recognized as the patron saint of animals, we doubt that the Red Admiral pictured on the statue of St Francis has anything to do with the butterfly’s reverence for the saint.  Red Admirals often seek sunny locations on lawn furniture and other objects where they soak up the heat. 

Red Admiral on statue of St. Francis

You are a funny man, Daniel!
The best spots in our yard for butterfly photography are those very good sunning spots when the sun gets low in the western sky, especially a big willow near our vegetable garden.
Cheers!
Don

 

Letter 30 – Vanessa Caterpillar: possibly Red Admiral

 

UNIDENTIFIED CATERPILLAR NEEDS YOUR HELP
Hello, Here are two caterpillars that I found on a type of weed that I call the sandpaper leaf weed because the leaves feel exactly like sandpaper. It looks a little like a mourning cloak caterpillar but I don’t know for certain. The chrysalises’ are about 7/16th of an inch long. I looked through your website and couldn’t find any that looked like this. Can you help me? Thanks a lot. I’ve named many a caterpillar from images from this site. Keep up the good work.
Lisa

Hi Lisa,
Since your photos are not critically sharp, and because there is much variability in the caterpillars, we cannot provide a conclusive species identification, but we are certain the genus is Vanessa. We believe your caterpillars are either Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta, or Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui. The Red Admiral feeds on plants in the Nettle family and that is consistant with your plant description, so we are favoring the Red Admiral. Since you have actually observed the caterpillars, you can follow the links to the BugGuide images we have posted with your letter on our homepage and try to determine if we are correct. You can also keep a chrysalis in a small cage until the butterfly emerges. Please let us know what you discover.

Letter 31 – Weidemeyer's Admiral

 

Weidemeyer’s or White
We had the great pleasure of watching our caterpillar (wish I took a picture but it looked like bird droppings with horns) turn into a chrysalis on July 4th. Today (July 10th) the pictured beauty emerged. I found two butterflies on your website that look like ours…The Weidemeyer’s Admiral and the White Admiral. I can’t seem to tell the difference in all these photos…can you? The caterpillar was found on a choke cherry tree in Big Sky, Montana. Thank you,
Big Sky Bug Kids

Dear Big Sky Bug Kids,
We are quite pleased to hear your metamorphosis was successful. This is a Weidemeyer’s Admiral, Limenitis weidemeyerii. While the dorsal view is quite similar to a White Admiral, the underside is distinctly different. Including both views with your letter will help ensure that future readers can make a proper identification.

Letter 32 – Weidemeyer's Admiral

 

Butterfly id
Hello again
I don’t want to add to your swampedness, but I got this photo of a butterfly today while hiking just west of Colorado Springs, CO. It looks a lot like the White Admiral on your butterfly page, except I can’t see any colored spots on it. Also when I Googled “White Admiral”, most of the links were for UK butterflies which looked nothing like mine. Thanks for the help,
Heidi

Hi Heidi,
Adding to our swampedness is no problem when you are sending us a great photo of a new species for our site. This is a close relative of the White Admiral. It is Weidemeyer’s Admiral, Limenitis weidemeyerii. Like its relatives, the caterpillars feed on willow and aspen.

Letter 33 – Weidemeyer's Admiral

 

Unknown Butterfly
I found him in the Big Horns.
Was unable to identfy him.
Scotty
Wyoming, Natrona County

Weidemeyer's Admiral
Weidemeyer Admiral

Hi Scotty,
Your butterfly is a Weidemeyer’s Admiral, Limenitis weidemeyerii. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of willows and aspens, and it is found in the Great Basin area north to the Canadian border in habitats where those plants are present like moist forests as well as marshes are riparian areas of arid country.

Letter 34 – Which Admiral is it???

 

Subject: Red-Spotted Purple AND Western White Admiral!
Location: Naperville, IL; Grand Teton, WY
August 19, 2013 8:57 pm
Dear Daniel~
I know you dislike it when folks send photos of two different species in one submission, but as these are actually two different *sub*species, and one led me to the other, in effect, maybe you’ll forgive me?
I was so happy this morning because I saw a flash of what I initially thought was my garden-variety Black Swallowtail butterfly (I think we don’t have Pipevine Swallowtails around here) when I noted the lack of distinctive Swallowtail hindwings. I have never seen a Red-Spotted Purple in my yard before, so you can imagine how excited I was.
Then, later on this evening in the course of finding the scientific name for the Red-Spotted Purple, I discovered that a butterfly I photographed (badly, I might add, but it was flitting around so quickly) last week in Grand Teton National Park and was struggling to identify was none other than a Western White Admiral, a different form or subspecies of Limenitis arthemis, my beloved Red_Spotted Purple.
How thrilling!
I hope you have a wonderful evening!
Signature: Dori Eldridge

Possibly Weidemeyer's Admiral
Possibly Weidemeyer’s Admiral

Hi again Dori,
We are not fully convinced that this is a White Admiral, which BugGuide lists as inhabiting the Northeast, and reports it as far west as Wisconsin.  Another possibility is the Western White Admiral, yet another subspecies,
Limenitis arthemis rubrofasciata, which BugGuide reports from Canada and bordering Montana.  This is a slightly redder subspecies, but your individual is not a freshly emerged adult and it is showing some wear, tear and fading.  Our money is actually on Weidemeyer’s Admiral, Limenitis weidemeyerii, which BugGuide actually reports from Wyoming.  It is described on BugGuide as being:  “Above, black with a wide white postmedian band on both forewings and hindwings. Below, forewing is black with white band and white spots inside band. Hindwing is blue-grey with black cross lines inside the white band and a variable row of reddish spots inside a row of blue-grey crescents outside the white band.”  If you had a photo of the underside, it would perhaps be more conclusive, but to further complicate the identification, according to BugGuide, the Western White Admiral:  “Hybridizes or perhaps intergrades with L. lorquini & L. weidemeyeri where they meet to the southwest in ne. Washington, w. Montana, n. Idaho, British Columbia, and sw. Alberta. Not all specimens in this region will fit neetly into one or another species, but will be intermediate in character. Blends with subspecies astyanax southward on Prairies (and, if eastern populations are the same, blends with subspecies arthemis southward in Great Lakes region and east through New England).”  BugGuide does also have a map range for the various subspecies of Limentis arthemis, and it does not include Wyoming, which is further support of our belief that this is most likely Weidemeyer’s Admiral.  Perhaps you also have a view of the undersides of the wings which would lend further proof to our supposition. Willow is listed as a food plant for all the species and subspecies we have mentioned, and it appears that your individual is hovering around a willow, possibly to lay eggs.  All of our waxing on the identity of this lovely butterfly is further reason to split it off into a separate posting from your Red Spotted Purple.

Hi Daniel!
Wow! Last week, with my very limited Internet, I was vacillating between a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Weidemeyer’s Admiral as an ID for this B&W butterfly! When I read an older post on your site last night about the three subspecies of Limentis arthemis, perhaps I became too excited at how coincidental it was, having spotted the Red-Spotted Purple yesterday. I am certain you’re correct, and yes, the butterfly was flitting in and out of the willows along the edges of Jackson Lake in Colter Bay, likely laying eggs, as there were no flowers around from which she could have been feeding, other than musk thistle. I was having a difficult time focusing my camera on the butterfly, as opposed to all the surrounding willow leaves, so this is actually the only shot I have of it that is completely unobscured. A very interesting side note about the Yellowstone/Grand Teton ecosystem in which willow plays a big part: the reintroduction of wolves has had a large, positive effect on the wildlife that rely upon willow as food. The roaming, preying wolves have caused the huge elk population to become more wary, forcing them out of complacency and away from the willows they had formerly been decimating. This in turn saw a resurgence of willows along water’s edge, along with the fauna that have historically fed upon it, particularly beavers. Thank you so much for sharing your enormous expertise and passion! I can’t say enough wonderful things about you and your fabulous, fabulous web site!
All the best,
-Dori Eldridge

Thank you for your kind comments Dori, and also for that wonderful information on the wolves.

Letter 35 – Yellow Admiral

 

New Zealand moth?
Hi
Took this shot of what I believe to be a New Zealand moth flying around in daylight. Can you help with identification? Thanks
Cameron Hill

Hi Cameron,
This is actually a butterfly known as the Yellow Admiral, Vanessa itea. We located a website with photos and information that states: “A real speed demon, these butterflies always seem to be in a hurry. When they land they flash their wings to display that bright yellow spot. An impressive sight. The adult butterflies sometimes congregate on the damaged trunks of Gum Trees … to feed on the sap flow.” The species was known as Bassaris itea at the time it appeared on a New Zealand postage stamp.

Letter 36 – Yellow Admiral and Granny Moth from Australia

 

Butterfly and moth
Hey bugman!
I couln’t find either of these bugs on your site, but I might have missed them somehow. Either way I just wanted a second opinion on the ID of these guys. The first attached picture is a moth that was on our back porch a couple of months ago. I have only ever heard them called ‘granny moths’. Dasypodia selenophora was the scientific name I found on another site but hey, I could be wrong. The other is a butterfly that landed on some wet washing on the line that looks kind of like the one at the bottom of your butterflies page. My search ended with the name Vanessa itea or Yellow Admiral. Anyway, thought you might like them even if I gave them the wrong names!
Dayna

Yellow Admiral Granny Moth


Hi Dayna,
We do have a Yellow Admiral photo that arrived a few months ago. It is on our second butterfly page. The moth is one of the Owlet Moths, but we like the name Granny Moth. Even though your letter didn’t state a location, we are guessing you are in New Zealand.

Whoops I new I forgot something, sorry! I’m in South Australia. Close guess though.

Letter 37 – Yellow Admiral Butterfly from New Zealand

 

moth or butterfly
Kia ora Bugman
This photo was taken in our front yard in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Can you please let me know the name of this (moth or butterfly). They love feasting on the nectar that comes from these little waxy flowers.
naku noa
Michelle

Hi Michelle,
This is a Brushfooted Butterfly in the Family Nymphalidae, but we don’t recognize the species.

Hi noticed the picture that you didn’t recognize, its a very common butterfly here in new Zealand also found in Australia common name is the Yellow Admiral Butterfly Vanessa itea.
Lorneville Chemical Lab Laboratory

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

26 thoughts on “Red Admiral: All You Need to Know and More for Butterfly Enthusiasts”

  1. Hi, I’m the person that posted the butterfly above and the reson why it says n/a is because number 1)i just started this acount yesterday so im still tring to figure this web site out and number 2) i did’nt quite understand what Signature ment when i posted the this, sorry, and thank you.

    P.S. my name is Gary

    Reply
    • Thanks for the clarification Gary. The Red Admiral is one of our favorite butterflies. They often alight on the garden hose in the front yard of our Los Angeles office, and though they fly off if approached, they quickly return to the area. They truly are beautiful butterflies.

      Reply
  2. I quite enjoyed watching some Red Admirals in Winnipeg today. We were out painting lines on soccer pitches, and they were apparently attracted to the white latex paint we use. Now they might be members of the White-speckled Admiral subspecies. Hopefully no harm will come to them from it…

    Reply
  3. Once again, What’s That Bug? saved my sanity. After enjoying the company of these little creatures all day yesterday, I found their identity here…

    Reply
  4. Syracuse, New York. Dozens were sunning themselves on the side of the house and on the deck, as well as clinging to the flowering trees. Then when I was doing errands I saw them in flight everywhere!

    Reply
  5. This is great. After searching the internet I thought the butterflies swarming my backyard were Milbert’s Tortoiseshells. But I stumbled onto this site and the first image I saw was the exact match. So now I know these swift butterflies are really named Red Admirals.

    For the past three days they’ve been hanging out in my neighborhood in the north Bronx, New York City.

    Reply
  6. I have noticed the population boom here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    Last year I saw Tiger Swallowtail dark morph females here for the first time, though I’ve been seeing Tiger Swallowtails for almost 30 years.
    Giant Swallowtails are new here too.

    I almost never see Monarchs any more. 🙁

    Reply
  7. Hi Daniel~

    I have seen Red Admirals, along with Painted Ladies, in huge numbers here in Naperville, IL, in the past two weeks. They’re extremely gregarious and will alight on us as we sit on our patio – or even as we walk around our property. We’ve got English bluebells and yellow daylilies in bloom, and they seem to love the bluebells most of all and will congregate 5 to 10 on a small stand of them. With our recent rain and chilly temperatures, they haven’t been quite as numerous, but the Monarchs have arrived at last! If you’re not overwhelmed with photos, I can send one or two along.

    All the best,
    -Dori Eldridge

    Reply
    • Hi Dori,
      We would love to get more photos, especially of Red Admirals, though we won’t be able to post them until tomorrow at the earliest.

      Reply
  8. Hi Daniel, we live in NYC, in Manhattan, the less fashionable part of the Upper East Side, which is not usually a butterfly-rich location, but the last few days I have seen many, many of them! Several on every side of every block on York Avenue. It’s so great! We seem to have more than the usual number of Painted Ladies too.

    Reply
  9. I’ll tell my husband, Nabokov is one of his favorite authors. Thanks for the information about puddling, I couldn’t imagine what it was finding on the ground to eat.

    Reply

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