A couple of White Admirals – kind of beat up

2014 June 21

For some reason, all of the White Admiral butterflies I get a chance to photograph are pretty beat up. Like this one from June 28, 2012 (found dead by the road)

(top view of relatively undamaged wing)

(I was going to add a picture of its head, here, but it was probably killed by a vehicle impact, and the crash had crushed its eye. It wasn’t a good picture).

And this one from July 10, 2013 (that Sam caught in the yard with the butterfly net). It was at least still alive, but judging from the condition of the wings it was pretty elderly and most likely wasn’t going to last much longer.

I suppose part of the reason I only get pictures of them when they are in this condition is because they are very fast, agile butterflies, and so hard to catch unless they are near death (or actually dead). The one that was still alive wasn’t much interested in going anywhere, and so was easier to photograph than a younger specimen might have been. While the colored scales[1] were largely rubbed off of the upper side of the wings, the underside was still pretty colorful.

White admirals are in the species Limenitis arthemis, but apparently not all members of this species are White Admirals. There are several recognized regional color variations (that may not be actual subspecies, they seem to all mate with each other where their ranges overlap). For example, further south they have become mimics of the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail, and are called “Red-Spotted Purples”. Our local ones don’t look much like that, though.

The caterpillars eat cherry, willow, and birch leaves, and are camouflaged to look like bird droppings (as is the chrysalis). The adults have a tendency to get moisture from things like mud puddles, manure, and rotting fruit, and don’t seem to be excessively interested in flower nectar.

[1] The color on butterfly and moth wings is from almost-microscopic scales that easily rub off, leaving a transparent wing membrane that looks like most other insect wings. The name of the order they belong to (Lepidoptera), means “scaled wing”, and it is one of their most distinctive features relative to other insects.

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