Red Admiral Butterfly

2011 April 16

Sam caught this butterfly for me on May 16, 2010 with her insect net. Like most butterflies, it wasn’t very cooperative about showing the tops of its wings, but I did manage to snap one shot with the wings open.

This pose is more typical, with the wings folded up over its back. Like this, it looks rather like a dead leaf

Although, by moving its forewings forward, it could show a band of color

And here’s the left wing shown clearly, at any rate.

This rather distinctive red-and-black pattern is clearly that of the Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta. The larvae eat nettles, and they have a couple of generations a year. Interestingly, they don’t actually overwinter here, they migrate up from the south every spring. Which is why this one (a) showed up so early (May 16 is not very long after the snow melts here); and (b) looks kind of worn (it probably flew quite a long way). I gather that while they do overwinter in the south, they don’t have large, obvious overwintering aggregations the way the Monarchs do in Mexico. Their migration patterns aren’t well mapped, and there is an ongoing project to get more information – the Vanessa Migration Project. Basically, they want to hear from anybody who spots this butterfly, or any of the other three Vanessa species. They want to know which one was spotted, when, where, which way it was going, and what the weather was like at the time. So, if you see any of these butterflies, let the Vanessa Migration Project know.

There seem to be a lot of government officials in the butterfly world: we already have “Monarch”, “Viceroy”, and now a “Red Admiral” that have been posted here so far. Then there are also the “White Admiral” (which we do see around here and will doubtless catch one of these days), the “Queen” (which doesn’t get this far north), and a few species of “Emperors” and “Empresses” (which might). Nobody seems to want to name butterflies after lower-level officials, though. Probably because such officials aren’t really known for their gaudy regalia or fancy uniforms. At least, I’ve never heard of a “Blue Alderman” or a “Yellow-Banded Mayor”. Although, there is a “Painted Lady”.

4 Responses
  1. April 18, 2011

    Great photography as always despite the wiggling subject. Have you ever tried getting video of the critter and then pulling still images from it?

  2. April 19, 2011

    I tried video of insects a couple of times with my old point-and-shoot, with poor results. I’d need a really good videocam for that, I think. And my Canon 10D doesn’t have a video mode. Canon EOS DSLRs didn’t include a video mode until the 5D Mark II came out in 2008, and those are still too expensive on the used market for me to even consider. Although, they do shoot high-definition video, and the used ones get cheaper all the time, so maybe one of these days . . .

  3. April 23, 2011

    Let’s see here … my Kodak Zi8 can do 1080p videos. It’s pretty inexpensive, too. You might not be able to translate inidividual frames into glorious, hi-res photos, but the videos you posted to YouTube would still be clear and bright and would add a new touch to the blog.

  4. June 24, 2011

    I just found your blog today and am quite impressed by it. You have great info.

    I thought I’d share a trick with you for photographing your butterfly catches. Place the butterfly in your refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes so that it cools down significantly. It will not harm it as they are used to cool weather on spring and fall nights. A butterfly has to have temperatures of apx. 60* to fly. By cooling it down it won’t be able to wander off on you. It will also be more likely to open its wings for you. When butterflies are resting they keep their wings folded, when they need to warm up they open them and aim for the light. The wings act like little solar panels capturing the energy of the sun so that they can bring their body temperature up enough to fly.

    I hope this helps.

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