Red Admiral

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

Red Admiral - Solihull West Midlands 28.07.2013
Photo © Neil Freeman

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

Checklist Number

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

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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)

Photo © Mark Colvin

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 31-July-05

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Red Admiral female - Hampshire 1-Nov-2014

Photo © jackz432r

Red Admiral  - The Devenish - 30-06-2014

Female Underside
Photo © Wurzel

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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 StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


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



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.


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.).

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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.

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Vince Massimo

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

Photo © millerd

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

Photo © Vince Massimo

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

Photo © Pete Eeles
Parisitised Larva

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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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.

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles
Pupal tent

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

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Description to be completed.

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Similar Species

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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Fabricius (1807) Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.