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Red Admiral butterfly
Vanessa atalanta
Nymphalidae family

Red admirals are large, dramatic and beautiful butterflies. They are brown/black with white spots and red/orange stripes. They are found in most areas of the world, at least part of the year.

I like to have butterflies around. I'm not unusual in this. "Butterfly gardens" are very popular. Most butterflies like flower nectar. The red admiral butterfly will take a little nectar when none of their favorite savories are available but they prefer rotting fruit, tree sap and bird droppings. The red admiral caterpillar also has very specific tastes. They like nettles, pellitory and hops.

I haven't had many red admirals about. I tend to keep the rotting fruit and bird poop hosed off my gargoyles. My trees, 30 percent of which are maple, do produce sap but I don't tap them. Stinging nettles have not been on my "new things to grow" wish list. Pellitory-on-the-wall doesn't grow around here and considering its pollen is highly allergenic we don't want it. But hops! I can do hops, and so maybe I'll see more red admirals one day soon.

I hope so. They seem really interesting.

My research says that as the summer day warms boy admirals pick a sunny spot to bask and for that afternoon the "owner" of said territory chases off other male red admiral butterflies as well as random fluttering leaves and small passing birds. Bigger things, like people are not threatening and they may even land on us as they make their boundary rounds.

Awwwww! I want one.

The females basically fly by and get noticed causing the male to abandon his post and chase her, the prize for that evening... the next afternoon, there's another basking spot and another girl.

Those boys are easily distracted and "notice" many things. Those girls have about 500 eggs to disperse, here and there, and that brings us back to the hops. The momma admiral looks for tender growing tips before depositing a few of her precious cargo. When the tiny caterpillars hatch they fold a leaf over themselves to form a little sheltering tent which they then proceed to eat. As they pass through the normal five instars for their species they need bigger leaves and finally several leaves to form their shelter.

Not all red admiral larvae make it to the cocoon stage! More than two thirds of V. atalanta larvae are infested by parasitic wasps or flies. Further natural enemies are spiders and earwigs.

Of those that make it, some of them will hibernate over the winter as butterflies but in the most northern climates of their range they migrate south.

http://www.public.iastate.edu/~mariposa/Lifcycle.html photos of egg and 5 instars
Dream flowers...(Weekend)...Daily Telegraph (London, England); 10/30/2004; Burton, Robert

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