Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta (va-NESS-uh a-ta-LAN-tuh)

Red Admiral - Solihull West Midlands 28.07.2013
Photo © Neil Freeman
 

Wingspan
Male: 64 - 72mm
Female: 70 - 78mm

Checklist Number
59.023

Family:NymphalidaeRafinesque, 1815
Subfamily:NymphalinaeRafinesque, 1815
Tribe:NymphaliniRafinesque, 1815
Genus:VanessaFabricius, 1807
Subgenus:  
Species:atalanta(Linnaeus, 1758)

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Introduction

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.

Vanessa atalanta

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden).

Red Admiral, Oaken Wood (3 October 2011)

Male
Photo © Mark Colvin

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 31-July-05

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Red Admiral female - Hampshire 1-Nov-2014

Female
Photo © Paul Harfield

Red Admiral  - The Devenish - 30-06-2014

Female Underside
Photo © Wurzel

Photo Album ...


History

The table below shows a chronology of vernacular names attributed to this species. Any qualification of the name (e.g. male, female) is shown in brackets after the name.

YearNameReference
1699AdmiralPetiver (1695-1703)
1748AldermanDutfield (1748-1749)
1749AdmirableWilkes (1749)
1775Scarlet AdmiralHarris (1775b)
1799Red AdmiralDonovan (1799)

Conservation Status

Long term distribution and population trends both show an increase and this species is not, therefore, a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not Listed
Increase+25
Large Increase+257
Stable+1
Decrease-40

The table above shows the occurrence (distribution) and abundance (population) trends, using information from The State of the UK's Butterflies 2015 (Fox, 2015). Any UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

This butterfly can be found almost anywhere, from the seashore and town gardens, to the tops of the highest mountains.

Distribution

 

Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

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.

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.

Imago

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.

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.).

Vanessa atalanta

Red Admiral - imago - Greenham Common - 01-Aug-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Aug-2010

Red Admiral - Beeding, Sussex 29-Sept-2015

Photo © Neil Hulme
29-Sep-2015

Red Admiral. Bournemouth  26 Sep 2006

Photo © Mikhail

Red Admiral, Kithurst Hill (14 September 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin
14-Sep-2011

Mating Red Admirals - Alpes Maritimes - 3 April 2017

Photo © CFB
03-Apr-2017

Red Admiral (female), Ticehurst, East Sussex (18 September 2012)

Photo © Mark Colvin
18-Sep-2012

Red Admiral - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2009

Evesham 20-Sept-2012

Photo © ashwin

Red Admiral Lavernock Point Nr Penarth South Wales 5-Oct-2013

Photo © New Era51

Red Admiral - imago - Pamber Forest - 02-Jul-06 (0435)

Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Jul-2006

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 6-Oct-07

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Oct-2007

Red Admiral female - Hampshire 1-Nov-2014

Photo © Paul Harfield
01-Nov-2014

Red Admiral, 25/09/2014, Liphook

Photo © Pauline
25-Sep-2014

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 31-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
31-Jul-2005

Red Admiral  - The Devenish - 30-06-2014

Photo © Wurzel

Red Admiral - imago - Woolhampton Gravel Pits - 14-Sep-11 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral  Stanwell Moor Middlesex 13th September 2016

Photo © millerd
13-Sep-2016

Red Admiral Female (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 16-July-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Jul-2011

Red Admiral - imago - Woolhampton Gravel Pits - 14-Sep-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral (at rest) - Crawley, Sussex 10-Sept-05

Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album (42 photos) ...


Ovum

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.

"On June 10th, 1894, the author captured a female atalanta at Abbot's Wood, Sussex; on the 14th of that month — the first warm and bright sunny day for two months — she deposited about 100 eggs, and died a few days afterwards; the eggs hatched on June 23rd and 24th, remaining nine and ten days in the egg state; during the time it was mostly dull and cool weather. On June 27th, 1903, a female was observed depositing on the young terminal leaves of small nettles growing in patches against a bullock shed on a marsh at Wallasea, Essex. She flew from one plant to another in quick succession, only resting about five seconds each time to deposit an egg, only one on a plant, each one being laid on the upper surface of one of the smaller leaves. These eggs hatched on July 2nd, remaining only five days in the egg state. Another was also seen depositing in the same way on June 29th, 1903. The natural food plant of this species is the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). The larva has been found feeding on wall pellitory (Parietaria officinalis). The egg is very small, being only 0.8 mm. high, of an oblong shape, but the surface is flattened and sloping on the apical fourth; the base is rounded. There are from eight to ten longitudinal keels, nine being the normal number, and rarely only eight; they run the entire length and are much elevated on the crown, and rapidly decrease over the flattened surface, then gradually so, and finally disappear near the base; the keels are delicately fluted, white and glassy; the spaces between the keels are concave, with slightly indicated transverse ridges, but most plainly so over the flattened part, otherwise the surface appears smooth and shining. The colour when first laid is light green, very gradually changing to a rather more yellowish-green, with the central portion somewhat darker, caused by the development of the larva, and just before hatching it is pearl-grey and the dark head of the larva shows clearly through the shell." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral - ovum - Unknown location - 2003 [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Red Admiral Ovum - Woldingham, Surrey 11-July-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
11-Jul-2011

Three Red Admiral ova - Caterham, Surrey 20-March-12

Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Mar-2012

Red Admiral - ovum - Knochadoon, Co. Cork, Ireland - 12-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Aug-2013

Red Admiral - ovum - Knochadoon, Co. Cork, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Aug-2013

Red Admiral - ovum - Greenham Common - 25-May-14-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-May-2014

Red Admiral - ovum - Greenham Common - 25-May-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-May-2014

Red Admiral Ovum (left), Comma ovum (right) - Somerset 30-July-2014

Photo © William
30-Jul-2014

RA ovum - near Southampton 11-Nov-2014

Photo © Tony Moore
11-Nov-2014

Red Admiral ovum (1 day before hatching) - Crawley, Sussex 5-Nov-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
05-Nov-2015

Red Admiral ovum (3 days before hatching) - Crawley, Sussex 3-Nov-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
03-Nov-2015

Red Admiral ovum (6 days before hatching) - Crawley, Sussex 31-Oct-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
31-Oct-2015

Red Admiral ovum - Crawley, Sussex 23-Oct-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Oct-2015

Red Admiral ovum - Friston Forest 28/05/16

Photo © Gary.N

Red Admiral - ovum - Thatcham - 30-May-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-May-2016

Photo Album (15 photos) ...


Larva

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.

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.

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 17-Aug-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-Aug-2009

Red Admiral (third instar larval tent) - Chaldon, Surrey 1-Aug-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
Larval tent
01-Aug-2011

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 01-Sep-12

Photo © Pete Eeles
Parisitised Larva

Red Admiral larval tents - Woldingham, Surrey 1-June-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
Larval tents
01-Jun-2012

Photo Album (4 photos) ...


1st Instar

"The young larva makes its exit by eating away the crown of the egg just enough to permit its body to pass out; it does not eat any more of the shell after it has emerged. Directly after emergence the larva measures 1.6 mm. long. The colour is light ochreous-yellow, tinged with greenish. There are ten longitudinal series of warts, each bearing a slightly curved, long, slender, simple black hair with the extreme apex white. They are situated dorsally, sub-dorsally, super-spiracular, spiracular and sub-spiracular. The claspers have each two sharply pointed, straight greyish hairs directed downwards. The surface of the body is roughened by numerous dark points, especially the lateral portion; the dorsal surface is smooth, the feet are yellow, black and white; the head is shining black and bears several fine black hairs, mostly directed forwards; those on the hind crown and sides of the face have bulbous bases. After leaving the egg the young larva at once crawls to the base of the young nettle leaf on the upper surface, and starts spinning a web, which gradually draws together the sides of the basal portion, and therein lives and feeds in security." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral larva (1st instar) - Crawley, Sussex 10-Nov-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
10-Nov-2015

Red Admiral larva (newly emerged) - Crawley, Sussex 6-Nov-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Nov-2015

Photo Album (2 photos) ...


2nd Instar

"The first moult occurred on June 28th, 1894, the first stage occupying about five days. Shortly before second moult it measures 5 mm.; the ground colour is olive-brown, having a greyish appearance caused by the pale warts which are sprinkled over the surface, each emitting a black bristle. There are seven longitudinal rows of black spines, each terminating with a rather long, black, fine bristle, and furnished with a number of smaller bristles. It lives under a web and those portions of the leaves which are not consumed; it renews its abode as soon as needful for the fresh supply of food." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral larva (2nd instar) - Crawley, Sussex 18-Nov-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
18-Nov-2015

Red Admiral larva (second instar) - Crawley, Sussex 3-Dec-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
03-Dec-2015

Photo Album (2 photos) ...


3rd Instar

"The second moult, July 1st, 1894, being only three days in second stage. One day after second moult it is 7.6 mm. long. The body is uniformly cylindrical, of a dark olive-brown colour. The seven rows of longitudinal spines are situated as in the previous description from the fifth to eleventh segments inclusive. The first segment is without spines, but is encircled with about eight short, conical, spine-like tubercles, each bearing bristles the same as the spines; the second and third segments have each four spines, also the anal segment. The segments are transversely wrinkled; the posterior wrinkle on each segment is adorned by a number of minute white warts, each bearing a black bristle; all the spines are furnished with a number of fine bristles, the apical one being the largest. In some specimens the sub-dorsal spines on the fifth, seventh and ninth segments are lemon-yellow, while in others only one yellow spine appears on one of these three segments, and often all the spines are black. The head and legs are shining black; the former is sprinkled with minute warts which emit black bristles; the claspers are black and greyish-white. There is a lateral lemon-yellow line composed of a series of lunate marks commencing on the fourth and ending on the eleventh segments; upon this line the lateral or sub-spiracular spines are situated, which, being black, breaks up the line into separate lunules. In some specimens with yellow spines on the fifth, seventh and ninth segments, all the other spines are pale greyish-ochreous with black bristles, and those on the second and third segments have blackish tips. While resting the larva coils itself laterally into a figure 6, and if gently touched a few times in quick succession it quickly turns its head at and touches the intruder, at the same time ejecting from its mouth a drop of black-green liquid; this it repeats time after time, as long as it is annoyed, and if the drop is not removed, it sucks it up again." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral (third instar constructing a larval tent) - Chaldon, Surrey 30-July-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
30-Jul-2011

Red Admiral larva (third instar) - Crawley, Sussex 19-Dec-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Dec-2015

Red Admiral larva (third instar) - Crawley, Sussex 19-Dec-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Dec-2015

Red Admiral larva (third instar pre-moult) - Crawley, Sussex 7-Jan-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
07-Jan-2016

Photo Album (4 photos) ...


4th Instar

"The third moult on July 5th, 1894., remaining four days in the third stage. Shortly before fourth moult it measures 15.9 mm. in length. In all respects it is similar to the previous stage, but many of the larvae in this stage are uniformly very dark, having the ground colour bronze-black, finely speckled with grey dots, and all the spines shining black; the only other colouring being the lateral line of yellow lunules." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral larva (early fourth instar) - Crawley, Sussex 12-Jan-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Jan-2016

Red Admiral larva (fourth instar) - Crawley, Sussex 20-Feb-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Feb-2016

Photo Album (2 photos) ...


5th Instar

"The fourth moult took place July 10th, 1894. After fourth and last moult, fully grown, the larva measures 35 mm. long, stout in proportion and tapering anteriorly. The first segment is disproportionately small. There are, as in the previous stages, seven longitudinal rows of branched spines, each terminating in a finely pointed bristle or spinelet, similar to those branching from the sides. The spines are arranged medio-dorsal, sub-dorsal, super-spiracular and sub-spiracular. The medio-dorsal are placed on the fourth to eleventh segments inclusive; the others commence on the second segment. On the anal segment is a blunt, conical wart, paler than the ground colour; the head is bronze-black, beset with numerous shining black and yellowish points, each bearing a fine bristle; eye spots shining black. The surface of the body is granulated and sprinkled with tiny white warts, each supporting a fine white hair. The whole colouring varies greatly in different specimens. The darkest form has every spine glistening black and the ground colour velvety black, excepting that surrounding the spines, which is deep red-brown, and the lateral series of lemon-yellow lunules, each divided by the segmental divisions. The legs are shining black, the claspers brown and feet buff. Other dark forms have yellow and buff-coloured spines, and are more or less speckled with white on the body, and the anal wart pinkish. Others are checkered with lemon-yellow, giving a pale greenish-grey ground colour. The last larval stage occupies about nine days." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 25-Aug-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Aug-2008

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 25-Aug-08 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Aug-2008

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 25-Aug-08 (3)

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Aug-2008

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 25-Aug-08 (4)

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Aug-2008

Red Admiral Larva (reared) Completing Pupation - Caterham, Surrey 29-June-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jun-2011

Red Admiral Larva (reared) Commencing Pupation - Caterham, Surrey 29-June-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jun-2011

Red Admiral Larva (reared) Minutes From Pupation - Caterham, Surrey 29-June-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jun-2011

Red Admiral Larva (reared) Preparing For Pupation - Caterham, Surrey 29-June-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jun-2011

Red Admiral Larva (Final Instar) - Caterham, Surrey 23-June-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Jun-2011

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 01-Sep-12-3

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral - larva - Thatcham - 01-Sep-12-4

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral larva (reared collected when small) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 28th May 2014

Photo © millerd
28-May-2014

Red Admiral larva (early fifth instar) - Crawley, Sussex 9-Mar-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
09-Mar-2016

Red Admiral larva (late fifth instar) - Crawley, Sussex 23-Mar-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Mar-2016

Red Admiral larva (early fifth instar) - Crawley, Sussex 15-Mar-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
15-Mar-2016

Red Admiral Larva (pupated 29-May-2014) - Stanwell Moor, Middlesex 24-May-2014

Photo © millerd
24-May-2014

Photo Album (16 photos) ...


Pupa

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.

"The pupa measures from 22.2 mm. to 23.8 mm. long. Lateral view: The head is blunt; the mcso-thorax rises to a point, forming an acute angle, and sunken at the meta-thorax and first abdominal segment; the abdomen forms a continuous curve, terminating in a long cremastral point. The ventral surface forms almost a straight line, excepting the slight concavity at the apex of the wings and abdomen. Dorsal view: The head is nearly square, with slight lateral, angular points; side of thorax and base of wings angular and projecting, also at the middle of the hind margin, over the bulging third and fourth abdominal segments. The abdomen tapers to the cremastral point. The ground colour is usually a pale buff-brown, more or less covered with a grey powdery bloom, and adorned with beautiful, gilded, metallic ornamentations, which vary considerably in size; in some specimens these form large medio-dorsal patches of gilt; also a medio-dorsal series of gilt points, one on each of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh abdominal segments, and a sub-dorsal series of raised conical points, beginning on the meso-thorax and ending on the eighth abdominal segment; those on the meta-thorax and second abdominal segments are most heavily gilded. There are also smaller super-spiracular points on the first four segments. In some specimens the last on the fourth segment is surrounded by a broad blotch of gold, with greenish and coppery reflections. The whole surface is coarsely granulated. The pupa is suspended by the cremastral hooks to a pad of silk spun upon the under surface of the leaf, which has also the edges and surrounding leaves coarsely spun together with silk, forming a tent enveloping the pupa. At first the pupa is bronze-brown with dull olive-green wings, and the subsequent metallic spots are at first yellow. Shortly before emergence it gradually deepens in colour, showing the pattern and colouration of the imago." - Frohawk (1924)

Red Admiral - pupa - Thatcham - 07-Sep-06 (0775) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Sep-2006

Red Admiral - pupa - Thatcham - 07-Sep-06 (0776) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Sep-2006

Red Admiral - pupa - Thatcham - 09-Apr-07 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
09-Apr-2007

Red Admiral - pupa - Mount Menikio, Greece - 12-Jun-09 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
Pupal tent
12-Jun-2009

Red Admiral Pupa (reared) ( 3 minutes before hatching) - Caterham, Surrey 16-July-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
16-Jul-2011

Red Admiral Pupa (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 4-July-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
04-Jul-2011

Red Admiral Fresh Pupa (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 29-June-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jun-2011

Red Admiral (final larval tent/pupation site) - Chaldon, Surrey 22-Aug-11

Photo © Vince Massimo
larval/pupal tent
22-Aug-2011

Red Admiral - pupa - nr Bentley Station Meadow - 30-Sep-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral - pupa - nr Bentley Station Meadow - 30-Sep-11 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral - pupa - Woolhampton Gravel Pits - 31-Aug-12

Photo © Pete Eeles
Pupal tent

Photo Album (11 photos) ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

No similar species found.

Videos


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Donovan (1799) Donovan, E. (1799) The Natural History of British Insects (Vol.8).
Dutfield (1748-1749) Dutfield, J. (1748-1749) A new and complete natural history of English moths and butterflies.
Fabricius (1807) Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.
Frohawk (1924) Frohawk, F.W. (1924) The Natural History of British Butterflies.
Harris (1775b) Harris, M. (1775) The English Lepidoptera: or, The Aurelian's Pocket Companion.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Petiver (1695-1703) Petiver, J. (1695-1703) Musei Petiveriani centuria prima-decima, rariora naturae continens.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Wilkes (1749) Wilkes, B. (1749) The English moths and butterflies: together with the plants, flowers and fruits whereon they feed, and are usually found.