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Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Red Admiral Butterfly



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Image Credit: Joe V. from AR
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Strong migration habits ensure the Red Admiral reaches across all three countries on the North American continent so everyone can enjoy its beauty.



Updated: 10/05/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Red Admirals are hard to miss and easy to identify thanks to their size and distinctive color and patterns. The red part of its name comes from the bright red band that crosses the underside of the black forewing. The top side of the wings are orange and black with white spots near the wing tips. It can be found yearlong in warmer states and in Mexico, but only in the summer months in the north. These migrants can produce one or two broods during their time up north. The cold winters kill off any that remain. Adults in warm regions hibernate through the winter. Large populations migrate north again the next year, especially in the eastern half of the continent, enabling the species to return every year. In desert regions, the butterflies start to move up the mesas and mountains at the beginning of the spring warm-up.

Adults can be found in virtually any habitat, ranging from rural to urban, subtropcis to tundra. They prefer to drink sap from trees, liquid from rotting fruit, and bird droppings. They will drink nectar from milkweed, clover, aster, and alfalfa flowers if their preferred foods are not available. Males are active in the mid-afternoon to evening, looking for females. They dart out at approaching objects, quick to defend their territories from any living creature. Females lay a single fertilized egg on a leaf of the larval host plant. Caterpillars eat the leaves of nettles, false nettles, mamaki, pellitories from the aster family, and other related plants. Once caterpillars hatch, they form a retreat by folding leaves with their silk. The caterpillars are black, but develop white, or light yellow speckles all over the body. Several black, branched spines radiate from each segment; these spines may be white closer to the rear. There are seven yellow bands, bent into the shape of upside-down 'V's, that mark each segment along the sides from head to rear.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Fast insect icon
Flying insect icon
Helpful insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Vanessa
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            Species: atalanta
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vanessa atalanta
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 40mm to 75mm (1.57" to 2.95")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: red, black, white, orange, white, brown
Descriptors: flying, helpful, fast, erratic
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 40mm and 75mm
Lo: 40mm
Md: 57.5mm
Hi: 75mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
State of Alabama graphic
State of Arizona graphic
State of Arkansas graphic
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State of Colorado graphic
State of Delware graphic
State of Florida graphic
State of Georgia graphic
State of Idaho graphic
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State of Louisiana graphic
State of Maine graphic
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State of Minnesota graphic
State of Mississippi graphic
State of Missouri graphic
State of Montana graphic
State of Nebraska graphic
State of Nevada graphic
State of New England graphic
State of New Jersey graphic
State of New Mexico graphic
State of New York graphic
State of North Carolina graphic
State of North Dakota graphic
State of Ohio graphic
State of Oklahoma graphic
State of Oregon graphic
State of Pennsylvania graphic
State of South Carolina graphic
State of South Dakota graphic
State of Tennessee graphic
State of Texas graphic
State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
State of West Virginia graphic
State of Wisconsin graphic
State of Wyoming graphic
Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Red Admiral Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Red Admiral Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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