Steve Cotterell

 Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

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This butterfly flies throughout the country.  It's a migrant which is happy to fly and breed in almost any type of habitat.


The larvae feed almost exclusively on stinging nettle, though hop and wall pellitory (Parietaria officinalis) are also reported.

Life Cycle

Red Admirals may be found as early as February or March, but May (possibly April) is more usual for first sightings of immigrants. From this time they may be seen almost into December if the weather then is fine. Hibernation is in the adult stage. A very few do hibernate here, and these exceptionally late butterflies may attempt hibernation, but probably few survive. There is evidence of a southerly migration from this country, to hibernate in warmer parts. It's said that the Red Admiral is single-brooded but certainly in captivity there is a second brood from butterflies emerging in July and August.


The Red Admiral is well known as a garden butterfly as it feeds from many kinds of cultivated flowers, especially buddleia and michaelmas daisy. In autumn it's particularly fond of sucking the juices of over-ripe fruit. However Red Admirals are as likely to be seen in woodland clearings, open fields or downland. Individual butterflies will sometimes patrol a small area, always keeping within it and quickly coming back again if frightened off. Butterflies are usually first seen in May and June, and these are normally immigrants from abroad. They lay and produce further butterflies by July and August, during which time further immigrants arrive. The butterfly is noted for its late appearance in October and November, at this time being particularly attracted to ivy blossom on walls.

Eggs are laid singly on the upper surface of stinging-nettle leaves, and the caterpillar constructs a tent from the leaf by drawing the sides together with silk, living a solitary life (unlike most of the other Vanessids). The tent becomes quite easy to spot for the trained eye, but wild larvae are often parasitised, and many produce a mass of little hymenopterous cocoons instead of a chrysalis. The pupa hangs from the tail, hidden in undergrowth.

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