What Do Red Spotted Purple Butterflies Eat: A Guide to Their Diet Choices

Red-spotted purple butterflies are a beautiful sight, vividly showcasing black and iridescent blue on their wings, with orange spots that make them stand out. They inhabit wooded areas and can often be found flying gracefully through forests or suburban landscapes, mimicking the poisonous pipevine swallowtail to help fend off predators. There’s something fascinating about this creature, particularly when it comes to understanding what they eat.

As for feeding, adult red-spotted purple butterflies have a preference for nectar from flowers. They will indulge in various flowering plants to draw sustenance and continue thriving in their environment. Picking flowers rich in nectar is crucial to attracting these elegant butterflies, so it’s helpful to know what type of plants they love.

Some popular plants that cater to the red-spotted purple’s tastes include wild cherries, oaks, willows, and hawthorn. Adding these to your garden or landscape not only serves as a delectable treat for the red-spotted purple butterflies but also creates an inviting space for other native pollinators.

What Are Red Spotted Purple Butterflies

The Red Spotted Purple Butterfly is a beautiful and unique North American insect. Its scientific name is Limenitis arthemis astyanax. Let’s take a closer look at some of its features:

  • Description: These butterflies have striking red-orange spots near the base of their wings and black lines near the hindwing margin. The upper side of their wings has black and iridescent blue coloration.

  • Size: Red Spotted Purple butterflies have a wingspan ranging from 2.25 to 4 inches.

Knowing about the Red Spotted Purple’s appearance is essential to identifying them in the wild, but what do they eat?

These butterflies primarily feed on tree sap, ripe fruit, and dung. They tend to be more attracted to sources of sugar, like overripe fruit, because it provides them with the necessary energy for their active lifestyle. Additionally, Red Spotted Purples may occasionally feed on nectar from flowers if other food sources are scarce.

Now that we know about the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly’s defining characteristics, we can better appreciate their unique appearance and fascinating behavior when we encounter them in nature. Happy butterfly watching!

Diet of Adult Red Spotted Purple Butterflies

Preferred Flower Nectar

Although adult red-spotted purple butterflies rarely visit flowers, some nectar-rich flowers might still attract them occasionally. In general, these butterflies have a preference for sap, rotting fruit, and other sources of nutrients, so flower visits are not a significant part of their feeding habits.

Fruit Preferences

You’ll find that red-spotted purple butterflies are more attracted to rotting fruit, particularly wild cherries, apples, and deerberries. These fruits provide the necessary nutrients and energy needed for their adult life. Keep an eye out for them in forest openings and woodland paths, where these fruits might be found.

Sap and Other Sources of Nutrition

In addition to fruit, red-spotted purple butterflies also rely on other sources of nutrition such as tree sap, dung, and even animal carcasses. These alternative sources might not be as attractive, but they still provide essential nutrients that the butterflies need to survive and thrive.

Feeding Habits

As a red-spotted purple butterfly, your feeding habits are quite unique compared to those of other pollinators. While you might occasionally be drawn to flower nectar, your primary sources of nutrition lie in:

  • Sap and rotting fruit
  • Dung and carrion

Since red-spotted purple butterflies typically prefer semi-sunny environments, you’ll find them feeding near stream and forest edges as well as along woodland paths. This behavior sets them apart from other butterflies that are more flower-oriented in their feeding habits.

Caterpillar and Larval Diet

Dependence on Host Plants

The diet of red-spotted purple caterpillars primarily consists of leaves from their host plants. They rely heavily on these plants for their survival and growth. During the larval stage, you’ll find them munching on leaves from various trees such as willows, cottonwoods, aspens, poplars, and birch1.

Some host plants to consider are:

  • Willows (Salix spp.): These trees provide a valuable source of nourishment for caterpillars and are commonly found in wetlands and along riverbanks.

  • Cottonwoods (Populus spp.): These fast-growing trees are another preferred host plant, often found in riparian areas.

  • Aspens (Populus spp.): Aspens offer a good source of nutrition for caterpillars and grow in colder regions with moist soil.

  • Poplars (Populus spp.): Found in many parts of North America, these trees are also important host plants for red-spotted purple caterpillars.

  • Birch (Betula spp.): These deciduous trees, with peeling bark, are another suitable host plant for the caterpillars.

In addition to the previously mentioned trees, they occasionally feed on leaves from Prunus species, such as black cherry (Prunus serotina) and apple or hawthorn trees2. These diverse host plants allow the caterpillar to adapt and thrive in different environments.

Remember that it’s essential for you to ensure that caterpillars have access to the leaves of their preferred host plants if you’re trying to rear them. Providing a suitable environment and appropriate food will allow them to grow into healthy butterflies.

Habitat and Distribution

The red spotted purple butterfly is commonly found in the eastern United States, sometimes extending its range up to Canada and even reaching as far southwest as Maryland. Typically, you’d spot these butterflies in a variety of habitats, from forest edges to woodlands.

Some features of their preferred habitats include:

  • Ample sunlight
  • Access to host plants for larval feeding
  • Availability of nectar-producing plants for adult sustenance

These butterflies are quite adaptable, making them less vulnerable to habitat loss compared to other species. You’ll notice that they prefer sunny, open areas within woodlands, which allow them to easily bask in the sun and locate nectar sources. So, when exploring eastern forests or visiting parks, keep an eye out for these brightly colored beauties fluttering around in search of food and a place to call home!

Anatomy and Appearance

The Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) showcases a captivating appearance. Its wingspan ranges between 2¼ – 4 inches (5.7 – 10.1 cm) with a blue to blue-green iridescence on the outer part of the hindwing. When you look at the underside, it’s dark brown with unique markings.

These butterflies have striking patterns on their wings, including:

  • Orange spots near the base of their hindwings
  • Two red-orange bars near the base of the leading edge on their forewings

One interesting aspect of Red-spotted Purple butterflies is their resemblance to the Red-spotted Admiral, also known as the white admiral. The Red-spotted Admiral has an additional broad white band across its wings that separates it from the Red-spotted Purple.

You’ll find these butterflies in various habitats such as woodlands and along forest edges. They blend in well with their environment due to their coloration. So, next time you’re exploring nature, keep an eye out for these beautiful and delicate creatures.

Life Cycle of The Red Spotted Purple Butterfly

Egg Stage

During the egg stage, female red-spotted purple butterflies lay single green eggs on the tips of host leaves. This begins the life cycle of this beautiful butterfly species.

Larval Stages

The eggs eventually hatch into caterpillars or larvae. These larvae have unique features:

  • They range from green to brown in color
  • They have white markings and a white saddle
  • They possess a pair of knobby tubercles on the thorax

Red-spotted purple caterpillars will feed on host leaves, growing and developing over time.

Pupa Stage

When the larval stage is complete, the caterpillars will form a chrysalis. This is the pupa stage, where the caterpillar undergoes a significant transformation. The chrysalis has a mottled brown and white appearance, providing camouflage.

Adult Stage

Once the transformation is complete, the adult red-spotted purple butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. These butterflies have stunning features:

  • An iridescent blue-black color on the upper side of the wings, with minor orange spots
  • The underside of the wings is a mix of brown-black and blue, with more striking orange spots

Males and females will then begin the mating process, with females eventually laying eggs to start the life cycle again.

Remember to appreciate the beauty of the red-spotted purple butterfly, and enjoy watching its life cycle unfold before your eyes.

Adaptations and Survival Strategies

The Red-spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) has developed some fascinating adaptations to help it survive in the wild. One notable strategy is that it mimics the appearance of the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. This deception allows the Red-spotted Purple to ward off predators like birds, who are deterred by the Pipevine’s toxicity 1.

When it comes to nurturing the next generation, Red-spotted Purple caterpillars have their own tactics. In their early stages, they resemble bird droppings, which makes them less appetizing to predators 2. As they grow, their appearance changes, and they develop a more round shape, which helps them blend into their surroundings 1.

This butterfly is a member of the Nymphalidae family and is actually a subspecies of the White Admiral butterfly 3. The species exhibits seasonal variations, with adults typically flying during the warmer months. In winter and fall, Red-spotted Purples can be found in their larval stage, waiting to emerge as adults when temperatures rise 3.

For sustenance, these creatures have quite a varied diet. Adult Red-spotted Purple butterflies are often found sipping on mud puddles to gain nutrients such as salts and minerals 4. They may also perch on the edges of ponds, feeding on the decaying organic matter found there 5.

To sum it up, the Red-spotted Purple butterfly employs a range of survival techniques, including mimicking other species, blending in with their environment, and having a versatile diet. Their creative adaptations contribute to their success as a species.

Interaction with Other Species

Red spotted purple butterflies have a unique relationship with their surroundings. They interact primarily with various plants and trees within their environment.

For example, wild cherry and other deciduous trees are essential to the butterfly’s life cycle. These trees serve as host plants for the butterfly, providing them with the necessary resources to grow and develop. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of these trees, ensuring they have nutrients to transform into adult butterflies.

  • Trees: Wild cherry, deciduous
  • Host plants: Leaves

Furthermore, red spotted purple butterflies are attracted to certain plants for their nectar. These nectar sources provide the adult butterflies with the energy they need to thrive. Some of their favorite nectar plants include milkweed and thistle.

Additionally, red spotted purple butterflies tend to blend well with their surroundings due to their wing patterns. This helps them stay protected from potential predators such as birds and other insects.

In conclusion, red spotted purple butterflies are uniquely intertwined with their environment, relying heavily on trees and plants for their survival. When observing these beautiful creatures, you can appreciate the delicate balance they maintain with their natural surroundings.


  1. Red-Spotted Purple 2 3

  2. Red-Spotted Purple Host Plants 2

  3. Red-spotted Purple – Alabama Butterfly Atlas 2

  4. Red-spotted Purple – Florida’s Wildflowers & Butterflies

  5. Red-spotted Purple Butterfly Life Cycle, Behavior and Facts

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 – Red Spotted Purple


This butterfly was real dark when i saw it. Itook the picture with a flash. when i doenloaded it to my computer. It was beautiful. Dont know what kind it is
Robert Potter

Hi Robert,
We believe the Red Spotted Purple is one of the most beautiful American butterflies, but we think that your computer manipulation was a tad heavy handed. The subtle beauty of the butterfly has been rendered somewhat garishly through the high contrast.

Letter 2 – Red Spotted Purple


What is this one?

What’s That Bug? is not your personal 411. If you want answers, you must provide us with information, like location, time of year, special circumstances and anything else that might be of interest to our readership. This is a Red Spotted Purple. If the photo was not so lovely, your letter would probably have ended up in the trash.

Letter 3 – Red Spotted Purple


Your site is a wonderful resource as we study the wildlife around our home and perennial gardens! Here are some butterfly pictures taken in the clematis and budlia bushes. Can you identify them for us? (just beginning to learn butterfly identification). These were photographed in SE CT. Thanks so much!
Marcek Family

Hi Marcek Family,
All of your photos are quite lovely, but we are posting the Red Spotted Purple to our site as we are underrepresented regarding this exquisite butterfly. Your other butterflies are a Monarch and a Tiger Swallowtail.

Letter 4 – Red Spotted Purple


Red Spotted Purple?
Hello Bugman,
I was enjoying your website looking at butterflies and I think that what I thought was the Spotted Admiral Butterfly might actually be the Red Spotted Purple butterfly. Am I correct? I found this in my front yard in northwestern Louisiana in the midsummer part of last year. It had perched on some foliage that I had growing in my garden and just sat there and let me snap away with my camera. I saw where in one post, you said you were short on Red Spotted Purple photos, so sent these in. The last one is the front view of it. I also am sending you some pictures of the Gulf Fritillaries Butterfly. These were found on azalea bushes in my mom’s yard. She too lives in northwestern Louisiana across the street from me. These were taken in midsummer of the year last year also about the same time I took the photos of the Red Spotted Purple.
Nancy T

Hi Nancy,
Your Red Spotted Purple images are beautiful. The White Admiral and the Red Spotted Purple are distinct subspecies of the same species.

Letter 5 – Red Spotted Purple


Do you by any chance know the name of this butterfly?
Thank you.

This is a Red Spotted Purple, a very beautiful North American species. The name does not make much sense unless you see the red spotted underside of the wings.


  • 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.

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  • 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.

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