A splash of bright red flashed by as I counted monarch butterflies in our garden late Wednesday afternoon. Perched in a sunny spot on the apple tree trunk, a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) fanned its wings, flew around the backyard a couple of times and landed on a lower limb of the tree.
Named for the red-bar markings on their black upper wings, red admirals also sport white marks in the upper corners of the forewings. The underside of the wings, which is often visible when the butterfly perches, is a mottled brown, tan and black, with a pink band and white spotting on the forewing.
Red admirals range from near the Arctic Circle to as far south as Guatemala. (They also live in Europe, Asia and North Africa, and have been introduced in other parts of the world.) They prefer moist areas such as fields, meadows, open woodlands, gardens and yards. Red admiral caterpillars prefer to eat nettle leaves; adults eat overripe fruit, tree sap, and the nectar of many types of flowers, such as aster, blazing star, spotted Joe-Pye weed and red clover. In Minnesota, there are one-to-two broods each year. The butterflies of the second brood are smaller and less colorful than the first brood. Most migrate to the southern states in autumn, but a few successfully hibernate in the north during mild winters. Many years, this butterfly remains active into October and I’ve seen them as early as mid-April in the spring.
For more information about the red admiral and other butterflies, visit: