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 © jackz432r

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, Kithurst Hill (14 September 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin
14-Sep-2011

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 6-Oct-07

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Oct-2007

Red Admiral - Portland 03.09.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman
03-Sep-2014

Red Admiral  Stanwell Moor Middlesex 13th September 2016

Photo © millerd
13-Sep-2016

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 31-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
31-Jul-2005

Red Admiral female underside - Coverdale Road Solihull West Midlands 19.08.2012

Photo © Neil Freeman
19-Aug-2012

Roosting Red Admiral. Seaford. 17/7/2014.

Photo © badgerbob
17-Jul-2014

Red Admiral - imago - East Lulworth - 08-Sep-06 (0779)

Photo © Pete Eeles
08-Sep-2006

Red Admiral, 25/09/2014, Liphook

Photo © Pauline
25-Sep-2014

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Jul-2011

Red Admiral, Kithurst Hill (14 October 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin
14-Oct-2011

Red Admiral - imago - Thatcham - 07-Sep-12

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Vince Massimo

Red Admiral - Houghton Forest, Sussex 15-July-2014

Photo © Neil Hulme
15-Jul-2014

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 8-Sept-07

Photo © Vince Massimo
08-Sep-2007

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

Red Admiral, Oaken Wood (3 October 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin
03-Oct-2011

Red Admiral - Somerset - 06/10/13

Photo © William
06-Oct-2013

Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 10-Sept-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
10-Sep-2005

Red Admiral  - The Devenish - 30-06-2014

Photo © Wurzel

Photo Album (41 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.

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 - 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 - Thatcham - 17-Aug-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-Aug-2009

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
Larval tents
01-Jun-2012

Photo Album (10 photos) ...


1st Instar

Description to be completed.

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

Description to be completed.

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
18-Nov-2015

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
30-Jul-2011

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
03-Dec-2015

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Dec-2015

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Dec-2015

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
07-Jan-2016

Photo Album (6 photos) ...


3rd Instar

Description to be completed.

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Jan-2016

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Feb-2016

Photo Album (2 photos) ...


4th Instar

Description to be completed.

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
09-Mar-2016

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Mar-2016

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

Photo © Vince Massimo
15-Mar-2016

Photo Album (3 photos) ...


5th Instar

Description to be completed.

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

Photo © millerd
28-May-2014

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

Photo © millerd
24-May-2014

Photo Album (7 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.

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.
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.