Originally published in July 2017.
A Red Admiral butterfly was sipping nectar from the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea) in my garden the other day. When I see a Red Admiral, I always catch my breath. It is something about the curved band of red on the dark black wings that delight me. These aren’t big butterflies but their colors are very arresting. They get noticed. No other butterfly has a wing pattern like Red Admirals.
My late cousin Vanessa liked the fact that her name Vanessa meant butterfly in Greek. She struggled for several years against an illness that took her life. Not long before she died she spoke to me about what the metamorphosis and rebirth of the butterfly meant to her. I see many butterflies during the summer. Yet when I see the Red Admiral it reminds me of my late cousin Vanessa.
The Red Admiral is an extremely versatile butterfly that lives in varied habitats. They live almost everywhere in the Northern hemisphere. Red Admirals are found from the subtropics to the arctic tundra. This butterfly species lives in North Africa, Guatemala, the Canary Islands, the entire United States, and most of Canada.
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) – Brushfoot Family (Nymphalini). Photo by Donna L. Long.
During their spring migration, you can spot a Red Admiral from mountaintops to big city streets. The Red Admiral’s southbound fall migration still needs study. If you’re in Europe help track migration for the Menz Laboratory at the University of Bern. In North America, The Red Admiral and Painted Lady Research Site has information on migration.
So, you can spot Red Admiral butterflies just about anywhere. The species is very common in the Philadelphia area and up and down the east coast. Red Admiral butterflies are common in open spaces. They fly fast and zigzagging among the flowers in the hot sun.
So far this summer, these butterflies have visited my garden.
- a Red Admiral
- many Cabbage Whites
- a Tiger Swallowtail
- a Zebra Swallowtail
- a Mourning Cloak
- and a couple of Monarch butterflies
I am sure there are other species that I didn’t see. Most of the flowers in my garden are native to my local area. Because of this many butterflies and other pollinators are attracted in my garden.
Since I have about ten plants of Purple Coneflower, I see plenty of butterflies in June and July. I will have many butterflies in my garden in the fall. Mainly because I have several Sedum Autumn Joy plants and New England asters that bloom then.
Hostplants to Entice the Red Admiral Butterfly to Lay Eggs in Your Garden
- Stinging Nettles (Urtica doica)
- Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis)
- False Nettles (Boehmeria cylindrica)
- Pellitory (Parietaria pennsylvanica)
Nectar Plants to Attract Adult Red Admiral Butterflies
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)
- Milkweeds (Asclepias species)
- Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
Red Admiral Butterfly Basics
|Common name:||Red Admiral|
|Scientific name:||Vanessa atalanta|
|Wingspan:||average: 2.1 inches|
|Range:||All regions of the U.S.|
|Habitat:||Nearly any open space|
|Host plant(s):||Mostly nettles|
|Adult food:||Sap, decaying matter, nectar|
|Notes:||Fast, zig-zagging flight|
Butterflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist