Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta) are well-known visitors of our parks and gardens. You can also see them in other open spaces like road sides, in the forests and in flowering meadows.
Red admirals are migratory butterflies. Like migratory birds, they fly to the south at the end of the autumn, looking for a warmer climate to spend winter. They normally spend winter around the Mediterranean Sea and will come back north in spring.
Some individuals don’t migrate, especially when there is a gentle winter. They will hide in small holes and hibernate waiting for warmer days.
When you see a red admiral sunbathing on a path, on a stone or a tree trunk early in spring, then it is quite possible that this individual spent the winter in our country. So don’t be surprised to see this butterfly on a warm day in March or April. You can distinguish the hibernating adult from freshly spawned youngster by its darker colour. The latter will be observed later in the season around May/June.
How to recognise it?
The red admiral is a butterfly from the Nymphalidae family. It is about 30 mm long and, when it spreads its wings, it will have a spanwidth of almost 60 mm.
Its body is dark brown. The wings are also dark with a light red/orange band in the middle of its forewings and a second band of the same colour on the edges of its hindwings. The butterfly also has some very clear white spots on the tips of its forewings.
When he folds his wings, the red admiral is more discreet: the underside of its wings is grey-brown, but you can still observe the red band and the white spots on its forewings.
Have you spotted a red admiral already? Click here to plot your observation on the site of NaturDetektive
Red admirals lay their eggs mainly on plants of the nettle family (especially the tall nettle, Urtica dioica). They lay single eggs on the top of the leaves. The caterpillar can be yellow with black spots but also completely dark brown to black.
Contrary to many other butterfly species, whose caterpillars live in colonies, those of the red admiral are solitary. To protect itself against the many dangers that surround it, the solitary caterpillar folds one or more leaves into a shelter. Silk threads ensure that the parts stick well together. The cavity is not just a shelter but also a meal! The leaves that form the shelter are eaten by the caterpillar. At a certain moment the animal will start to look for greener pastures and go to other leafs to make a new shelter. After about one month, the caterpillar will measure 35 mm and will start to form a pupa. This chrysalis stage will last about 15 to 20 days after which the butterfly will emerge.
What does the butterfly eat?
The red admiral needs a lot of nectar, which it will find as most butterfly species in flowers. This butterfly distinguishes itself from other butterfly species as it is also attracted by ripe to overripe fruit! You can find it towards the end of autumn in orchards and near single fruit trees, accompanied by flies, wasps and other insects, on fruits like apples, pears and others that have fallen on the ground.