The White Admiral is a woodland species and a delight to behold as it literally glides along forest rides, flying from tree to forest floor and back up with only a few effortless wing beats. For this reason, some of its closest relatives on the continent are known as "gliders". When settled, the adults are unmistakable, with their black uppersides intersected by prominent white bars. The undersides of this butterfly are, however, in complete contrast to the black-and-white uppersides, and are surely one of the most beautiful of all species found in the British Isles.
The butterfly is found in central and southern England, south of a line between South Devon in the west and North Lincolnshire in the east, as well as in a few scattered colonies in the eastern counties of Wales. It is not found in Scotland, Ireland or the Isle of Man. The distribution of this species in the early 1900s had declined to the point that it was restricted to southern England. However, there seems to have been a reversal of fortunes, with the butterfly reaching its former distribution that extends as far north as Lincolnshire. One explanation is that global warming has allowed the species to thrive at sites that had become too cool. Another is that the cessation of coppicing, that has been detrimental to so many woodland butterflies, has benefited this species which requires Honeysuckle growing in shady woodland for the successful development of its larvae.
This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1764) as shown here (type locality: Germany).
This species has shown worrying declines in terms of distribution and population at monitored sites and is therefore a priority species for conservation efforts. Although numbers at existing sites have fallen, the expansion of the range of this species does appear to have continued in the last decade.
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 is a woodland butterfly and is found in deciduous woods throughout its distribution. However, it can also be found in conifer plantations, so long as Honeysuckle is available in suitable locations.
Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.
|Abbots Wood, Alice Holt Forest, Alner's Gorse, Angmering Park Estate, Ashampstead Common, Ashclyst Forest, Ashdown Forest, Ashtead Common, Avon Heath Country Park, Backside Common, Bagmoor Common, Balls Wood, Bentley Wood, Bernwood Forest, Betty Daw's Wood, Binsted Wood, Black Park, Bookham Common, Botley Wood, Bourne Woods, Bovey Valley Woodlands, Bowdown Woods, Box Hill Woods, Bradfield Woods, Brampton Wood, Bricket Wood Common, Broxbourne Wood NNR, Carpenters Down Wood, Catfield Fen, Chaddesley Woods, Chambers Farm Wood, Church Wood, Clanger Wood, Crab Wood, Croes Robert Wood, Duncliffe Woods, Dunsford Meadow, Dunwich Forest, East Blean Wood, Eastcombe Wood, Ebernoe Common and Butcherland, Faggs Wood, Fermyn Wood, Fifehead Wood, Finemere Wood, Forest of Dean, Foxholes, Foxley Wood, Friday Woods, Gentles Copse, Girdler's Coppice, Grafton Wood, Great Hockham, Grovely Wood, Hainualt Forest CP, Haldon Woods, Hamstreet Forest, Hatton Meadows, Havant Thicket, Hayes Farm, Hethfelton Wood, Hockley Woods, Holt Country Park, Homefield Wood, Horsford Woods, Hurst Fen and Howlett Hills, Laughton Common Wood, Lea and Pagets Wood, Little Linford Wood, Lord's Wood, Lower Woods, Lydlinch Common, Market Weston Fen, Marks Hall Estate, Meare Heath, Mildenhall Woods, Monk Wood, Monk's Wood, Moor Copse, Morgaston Wood, Nagshead, Norbury Park, Orlestone Forest, Oxford Lane, Pamber Forest, Park Corner Heath, Piddles Wood, Plymbridge Woods, Pondhead Inclosure, Powerstock Common, Pulborough Brooks (RSPB), Ranmore Woods, Rookery, Rowland Wood, Rushbeds Wood, Ryton Wood, Salcey Forest, Shapwick Heath, Sheringham Park, Shutts Copse, Snakeholme Pit, Snitterfield Bushes, Somerford Common, Sopley Common, Southrey Wood, Southwater Woods, St Leonards Forest, Standing Hat, Stour Wood, Strumpshaw Fen, Stubhampton Bottom, Swanpond Copse, The Firs, Tiddesley Wood, Trench Wood, Tudeley Woods RSPB Reserve, Vann lake, Wallis Wood, Walters Copse, Warnham LNR, Watersmeet, Whitecross Green Wood, Whiteley Pastures, Wicken Wood, Wyre Forest|
Adults emerge in the second half of June and peak in the first part of July. There is usually one brood each year but, in some years, there may be a partial second brood in late summer.
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.
Males and females are similar in appearance, although females are slightly browner and larger, and have more-rounded wings. The adults feed from honeydew and are particularly partial to Bramble blossom. It is not uncommon, on good sites, to see several White Admiral all feeding from the same Bramble patch. A downside of this, however, is that their wings can get tatty very quickly, as they move around Bramble blossom, probing for nectar. The adults will also feed on salts and minerals from moist earth and animal droppings.
The behaviour of the female when egg-laying is in complete contrast to the normal soaring flights, making her easy to spot. The female flits low in undergrowth or through shaded woodland, stopping every now and again on the foodplant to lay a single egg. The female selects Honeysuckle that is in partial shade, often at the edge of a woodland ride or in lightly-shaded woodland. She also selects leaves on straggly pieces of isolated plant, rather than the lushest leaves that are often growing in full sun.
Adults feed primarily on Honeydew / Sap. Betony (Stachys officinalis), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Hogweed / Angelica (Umbelliferae), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) are also used.
Eggs are laid singly on the upperside of a leaf of the foodplant, close to the leaf edge. Most eggs are laid less than two metres from the ground. The egg is a curious shape, looking rather like a miniature golf ball covered in miniscule hairs. This stage lasts about a week.
On emerging from the egg, the light brown larva eats the shell before moving to the leaf tip to feed. Here is feeds on each side of the midrib on which it rests, leaving the midrib intact, producing characteristic feeding damage that is quite easy to spot. The larva initially decorates itself with faeces that it uses for camouflage, although this is abandoned after a week or so, after which the larva rests quite openly on the midrib.
Toward the end of the summer after the second moult, the larva builds a winter retreat, known as a hibernaculum. This is constructed by securing a leaf to the twig with silk (so that the leaf remains attached to the foodplant even after it has died), removing the edges of the leaf, and then folding what remains of the leaf edges together, forming a compartment within which the larva overwinters.
The larva emerges from the hibernaculum in the spring and, at the final moult, turns green in colour and starts to feed on the leaf edges rather than from the tip. The full-grown and exotic larva is a spectacular beast that would not look out of place in an Amazonian rainforest. It also has a curious habit of resting along the centre of a leaf with both front and back ends raised. There are 4 moults in total.
The primary larval foodplant is Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum).
The pupa is typically formed upside down under a leaf or stem of the foodplant, secured by the cremaster. This stage is, again, a very curious shape, with two prominent horns on the head, and a curious protrusion at the back. This stage lasts 2 to 3 weeks.
Description to be completed.
Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.
ab. nigrina (Weymer.Jahrber.Elberf.1884.6.p.66.pl.2.f.4-5.)
= nigra Cockerell.Entom.1889.22.p.54.
The upperside completely black, the white bands entirely absent. This covers the last part of the description of obliterata Shipp which says that the small white patch is sometimes also absent leaving the wings all black, nigrina having priority, only the first part of Shipp's description can apply to his obliterata.
ab. obliterae (Robson & Gardner.Young Nat."List of Vars" 1886.p.3.)
= semi-nigrina Frohawk.Brit.Butts.1914.p.171.pl.28.f.23.
The white bands almost obliterated or suffused. The form would seem to be transitional to ab.obliterata Shipp in which the white bands are reduced to small patches or patch, this, also, sometimes obsolete. When no white remains, the form belongs to nigrina Weymer.
No similar species found.
The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.
The species description provided here references the following publications:
|Behr (1864)|| Behr, H. (1864) On Californian Lepidoptera. No. IV.. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences.|
|Fabricius (1807)|| Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.|
|Linnaeus (1764)|| Linnaeus, C. (1764) Museum S:ae R:ae M:tis Ludovicae Ulricae Reginae Svecorum, Gothorum, Vandalorumque.|
|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.|