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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
Red Admiral - Solihull West Midlands 28.07.2013
Wingspan
Male: 64 - 72mm
Female: 70 - 78mm
Photo © nfreem
Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta
va-NESS-uh
a-ta-LAN-tuh
Number: 59.023
B&F No.: 1590
Family:Nymphalidae (Swainson, 1827)
Subfamily:Nymphalinae (Swainson, 1827)
Tribe:Nymphalini (Swainson, 1827)
Genus:Vanessa (Fabricius, 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), Ticehurst, East Sussex (18 September 2012)
Female
Photo © Mark Colvin
Red Admiral  - The Devenish - 30-06-2014
Female Underside
Photo © Wurzel

  Phenology  

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.


  Habitat  

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

  Larval Foodplants  

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.

  Nectar Sources  

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.).

  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.


Red Admiral (at rest) - Crawley, Sussex 10-Sept-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 6-Oct-07
Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Oct-2007
Red Admiral. Bournemouth  26 Sep 2006
Photo © Mikhail
Red Admiral - imago - East Lulworth - 08-Sep-06 (0779)
Photo © Pete Eeles
08-Sep-2006
Red Admiral - imago - Pamber Forest - 02-Jul-06 (0435)
Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Jul-2006
Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 10-Sept-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
10-Sep-2005
Red Admiral - imago - Greenham Common - 01-Aug-10 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Aug-2010
Red Admiral Female (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 16-July-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Jul-2011
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 - imago - Woolhampton Gravel Pits - 14-Sep-11 (2)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Red Admiral, Kithurst Hill (14 September 2011)
Photo © Mark Colvin
14-Sep-2011
Red Admiral, Oaken Wood (3 October 2011)
Photo © Mark Colvin
03-Oct-2011
Red Admiral, Kithurst Hill (14 October 2011)
Photo © Mark Colvin
14-Oct-2011
Red Admiral (female), Ticehurst, East Sussex (18 September 2012)
Photo © Mark Colvin
18-Sep-2012
Evesham 20-Sept-2012
Photo © ashwin
Red Admiral - imago - East Lulworth - 22-Sep-12-2
Photo © Pete Eeles
Red Admiral - Ticehurst, Sussex 15-Sept-2012
Photo © Neil Hulme
15-Sep-2012
24.6.2012  Red Admiral, discharges metabolic waste 024 1
Photo © hideandseek
24-Jun-2012
Red Admiral - Crawley, Sussex 31-July-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
31-Jul-2005
Red Admiral - Solihull West Midlands 28.07.2013
Photo © nfreem
28-Jul-2013
Red Admiral Lavernock Point Nr Penarth South Wales 5-Oct-2013
Photo © New Era51
Red Admiral, garden, Surrey 008-2 1 1
Photo © hideandseek
15-Oct-2013
Red Admiral - Kingston Lacey - 22-09-2013
Photo © Wurzel
Red Admiral  - The Devenish - 30-06-2014
Photo © Wurzel
Red Admiral - Houghton Forest, Sussex 15-July-2014
Photo © Neil Hulme
15-Jul-2014
Roosting Red Admiral. Seaford. 17/7/2014.
Photo © badgerbob
17-Jul-2014
Red Admiral - Solihull West Midlands 06.07.2014
Photo © nfreem
06-Aug-2014
Red Admiral - Portland 03.09.2014
Photo © nfreem
03-Sep-2014
Red Admiral, 25/09/2014, Liphook
Photo © Pauline
25-Sep-2014

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.

Unclassified Aberrations


Imago - female - Mill Road Cemetery, Cambridge - 13th Sept 2012
Photo © NickB
13-Sep-2012
Red Admiral ab? - NW England 16th Sept 2014
Photo © Goldie M
16-Sep-2014

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.


Red Admiral (male), Ticehurst, East Sussex (18 September 2012)
Photo © Mark Colvin
18-Sep-2012
Red Admiral - imago - Thatcham - 10-Oct-05
Photo © Pete Eeles
09-Oct-2005
Red Admiral - imago - Thatcham - 15-Oct-06 (0825)
Photo © Pete Eeles
15-Oct-2006
Red Admiral (male), Ticehurst, East Sussex (18 September 2012)
Photo © Mark Colvin
18-Sep-2012
Red Admiral Female (reared) ab. bialbata - Caterham, Surrey 16-July-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Jul-2011
Red Admiral - imago - Pamber Forest - 23-Jun-11 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Red Admiral 6th Oct 2013 NW England
Photo © Goldie M
06-Oct-2013
Red Admiral -female aberration - S Cambs - 22-Aug-14 [David Newland]
Photo © David Newland

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.


Red Admiral female - Coverdale Road Solihull West Midlands 19.08.2012
Photo © nfreem
19-Aug-2012

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.


Red Admiral - aberration - Unknown location - Sep-05 [David Dennis]
Photo © David Dennis
ab. klemensiewiczi

  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

  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.


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 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 (Final Instar) - Caterham, Surrey 23-June-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Jun-2011
Red Admiral (second instar larval tent) - Chaldon, Surrey 1-Aug-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
Larval tent
01-Aug-2011
Red Admiral (first instar constructing a larval tent) - Chaldon, Surrey 30-July-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-Jul-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
30.5.2012 Red Admiral, final instar, tent making, garden, Surrey, 062
Photo © hideandseek
30-May-2012
30.5.2012 Final-instar larval tent, garden, surrey 103
Photo © hideandseek
30-May-2012
4.6.2012  5.37pm. Red Admiral pupating, day 2, garden Surrey
Photo © hideandseek
04-Jun-2012
Red Admiral larva (reared collected when small) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 28th May 2014
Photo © millerd
28-May-2014

  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
4.6.2012  20.51pm. Red Admiral pupating, day 2, garden Surrey 055 1
Photo © hideandseek
04-Jun-2012
5.6.2012  7.25am. Red Admiral pupa 002 garden Surrey
Photo © hideandseek
05-Jun-2012
6.6.2012  8.23am. red admiral pupa, garden Surrey002
Photo © hideandseek
06-Jun-2012
23.6.2012  Red Admiral Chrysalis, butterfly about to emerge, garden, Surrey 006
Photo © hideandseek
23-Jun-2012

  Similar Species  

No similar species found.

  Videos  

Video © John Chapple
Red Admiral caterpillar making it's protective tent.
Video © John Chapple
Red Admiral.

  Sites  

Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.

Sites
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

  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
Stable-2
Decrease-21

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).


  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Fabricius (1807) Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Swainson (1827) Swainson, W. (1827) A Sketch of the Natural Affinities of the Lepidoptera Diurna of Latreille. The Philosophical magazine : or Annals of chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, natural history and general science.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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