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. This is a widespread species and can be found anywhere in the British Isles, including Orkney and Shetland.
Subspecies: Vanessa atalanta atalanta
The nominate subspecies was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden). The population in the British Isles is represented by this subspecies.
Adults may be seen throughout the year but there is build up in May and June as migrants arrive from the continent. These breed and give rise to the next generation of adults with a peak of emergence between mid-August and early October. There is a single brood each year.
Subspecies: Vanessa atalanta atalanta
The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.
This butterfly can be found almost anywhere, from the seashore and town gardens, to the tops of the highest mountains.
The primary larval foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). Hop (Humulus lupulus), Pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria judaica) and Small Nettle (Urtica urens) are also used.
Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), Honeydew / Sap (), Ivy (Hedera helix), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) and Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.).
The adults use a wide variety of nectar sources, including Buddleia, Ivy blossom and Bramble. They are also partial to rotting fruit, such as plums that have fallen from the tree. When resting on the ground or on a tree trunk, the undersides of the adults provide superb camouflage, making them almost invisible as they blend into the background.
Egg-laying females are very easy to spot. The powerful flight is replaced by a slow and deliberate flight as she flits from leaf to leaf of the foodplant, depositing an egg if the leaf is deemed suitable. Egg-laying is typically interspersed with periods of nectaring and resting.
Subspecies: Vanessa atalanta atalanta
Description to be completed. Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.
ab. bialbata (Cabeau.Rev.Mens.Soc.Ent.Nam.1911.11.p.22.)= bipunctata Gussich.Glasnik Hrvats.Prirodosl.Drustva.1917.29.p.214. I
= septiespupillata Verity.Ent.Rec.1919.3l.p.198.
= albimaculata Pruffer.Bull.Acad.Pol.Sci.Lettres 1920.p.218.
= albipunctata Ragusa.Nat.Sic.1920.23.p.144.
= martha Stephan.Iris.1923.37.p.36.
The red band of the forewings showing a white spot. Verity counts this spot in with the white submarginal ones, to make seven in all. He says that it only applies to males since the females usually have it and males do not. This is not so in England.
ab. fructa (Tutt.Brit.Butts.1896.p.355.)
The red band of the forewings is divided in the centre by black scaling which extends along the nervures.
ab. klemensiewiczi (Schille.Spraw.Kom.Fizyogr.1896.30.(2).p.217.)= albo-punctura Frohawk.Vars.Brit.Butts.1938.p.87.pl.20.f.1-2.
The main costal white spot of the forewings reduced and somewhat obscured and the two lowest white spots of the apical submarginal chain very much enlarged, the bottom one being more than twice normal size, the two together forming a large squarish white blotch. Beneath this, in the red band, is a small white spot. Hindwings showing a small white spot near the costa slightly inwards from the red band. The red band has no black spots. The original description has not been seen. Various authors give figures, sometimes without the white spot on the hindwings. See Berge's Schmett.pl.53.f.15.
Photo © David Dennis
Eggs are laid singly on the upper surface of a leaf of the foodplant and several eggs are often laid in the same nettle patch. They are light green at first, but turn darker as the larva develops. Eggs hatch in about a week.
The larva lives within a tent formed by folding the edges of a leaf together, emerging only to feed. As the larva grows it will form a new tent. The larva of this species is one of the easiest to find in a nettle patch, since its location is given away by a series of tents that are highly-visible to the trained eye. The larva is usually found in the largest of these tents.
The larva has several colour forms, ranging from black, to greenish-brown to a very pale yellowish-green. This stage lasts between 3 and 4 weeks, depending on temperature.
Several leaves are drawn together with silk to form a tent within which the larva pupates. It hangs head-down, attached to the roof of the tent by the cremaster. The head of the pupa is quite blunt - whereas those of closely-related species often have two prominent horns. This stage lasts between 2 and 3 weeks.
No similar species found.
Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.
|Arthur's Seat, Aspal Close, Bedfont Lakes Country Park LNR, Bryncelyn Hall, Coombe Heath, Cuerden Valley Park, Darley, Denbies Hillside, Devil's Ditch, Dundas Castle, East Ord, Fermyn Wood, Fleam Dyke, Hounslow Heath LNR, Howardian Local Nature Reserve, Hyde, Kinghorn Loch Path, Kirkcaldy, Latton Woods, Mansmead wood, Mayford Pond, Meanwood Park, Millenium Arboretum, Moors Valley Country Park, Moss Field, Mynydd Marian, Roudsea Wood NNR, Strumpshaw Fen, Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Tophill Low, Winsdon Hill|
Long term distribution and population trends both show an increase and this species is not, therefore, a species of conservation concern.
From The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).
The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.
The species description provided here has been derived from the author's own observations and the information contained in the following works:
- Asher (2001). Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G. and Jeffcoate, S.: The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. 2001.
- Fox (2006). Fox, R., Asher, J., Brereton, T., Roy, D. and Warren, M.: The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. 2006.
- Frohawk (1914). Frohawk, F.W.: A Natural History of British Butterflies. 1914.
- Howarth (1973). Howarth, T.G.: South's British Butterflies. 1973.
- Nash (2012). Nash, D., Boyd, T. and Hardiman, D.: Ireland's Butterflies: A Review. 2012.
- Riley (2007). Riley, A.M.: British and Irish Butterflies: The Complete Identification, Field and Site Guide to the Species, Subspecies and Forms. 2007.
- South (1906). South, R.: The Butterflies Of The British Isles. 1906.
- Thomas & Lewington (2010). Thomas, J. and Lewington, R.: The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland. Edn.2. 2010.
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