Thursday 7 March 2013

Red Admiral Butterflies

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta (in Public Domain)

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a very well known butterfly that is often seen in gardens and parks in the UK, especially in autumn when it is one of the last flying insects to be seen before the winter begins.
It has very conspicuous red and black wings and white spots on the wing-tips. The underside of the wings is mainly mottled and provides camouflage when the wings are folded.
The Red Admiral is a migrant butterfly that arrives in the UK and northern Europe each year and is believed to hibernate in small numbers in Britain too. In late summer and autumn it can often be found feeding on rotting fruit such as apples, pears and plums that have fallen to the ground in gardens and orchards. Red Admiral adults can often be seen feeding on Buddleia or the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) in late summer. With its spectacular colouration the Red Admiral is one of the most popular and commonly sighted British butterflies.
The caterpillar of the Red Admiral is mostly found on Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) but sometimes will also be discovered eating other plants in the Urticacae including Pellitory of the Wall (Parietaria officinalis) and the Small Nettle (U. urens), as well as Hops (Humulus lupulus) in the Cannabaceae. The Stinging Nettle is a familiar sight and often forms large patches alongside fields, on river and railway banks, and on waste ground and Pellitory of the Wall grows, as its name suggests, in the walls of old and ruined buildings.
The male Red Admiral butterflies tend to be smaller than the females but otherwise look identical. Females can be seen flying over food-plants and stopping to lay eggs but otherwise they are mainly encountered feeding on flowers or fruit or simply basking or flying in the sunshine.

Canary Red Admiral (Vanessa vulcania)

In Tenerife and the Canary Islands there is a very similar species of Red Admiral though it is smaller and has slightly different wing patterns. The red bands have black markings breaking them up. The Canary Red Admiral (V. vulcania) tends to be mainly seen in spring and lives in the cooler areas of the islands where there is more vegetation. 

Canary Red Admiral resting

This species is also found living in Madeira. It used to be referred to as Vulcania indica the Indian Red Admiral but has been declared as a separate species to this butterfly. Like the Red Admiral its caterpillars feed on nettles and plants in the Urticaceae.
Both species of Red Admiral butterfly are very pretty creatures from the Nymphalidae family and not easily mistaken for any other species. 

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