Red Admiral Butterfly and Flowers That Attract Them.

Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa Atalanta) sipping salts from human skin.
Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa Atalanta) sipping salts from human skin.

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 means “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.

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) Photo by Donna L. Long.

Around the World

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.


Spring and Fall Migration

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.


Finding and Attracting Red Admiral Butterflies

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.

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 summer blooming 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.

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) -closeup of wing - Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) – closeup of the wing – Photo by Donna L. Long.


Hostplants to Entice the Red Admiral Butterfly to Lay Eggs in Your Garden

Mostly Nettles

  • 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)
  • Asters
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) - Brushfoot Family (Nymphalini). Photo by Donna L. Long.
Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) – Brushfoot Family (Nymphalini). Photo by Donna L. Long.


Red Admiral Butterfly Basics

Common name: Red Admiral
Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta
Wingspan: average: 2.1 inches
Family: Nymphalids (Brush-Footed)
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


More Information on This Website

Early Spring Butterflies 

Butterflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist

Observing Butterflies At Home and Far Away 

Pollinator Syndromes: Predicting Which Flowers Insects Will Like

Why Native Plants?



  1. Thanks for “recycling” older blog posts, Donna! I would miss some of these past ones otherwise. As always, thanks for passing along what you have learned, so we all get to benefit from your studies. Great work, and well done images. Looks like you’ve been working with a macro lens.

    • Thanks for the words of encouragement. I reposted the Red Admiral post because I have been spotting so many of them in the last few weeks. When I reread the post I was reminded of my late cousin Vanessa. My family all miss her, deeply.
      The photos – no separate macro lens just my old but trusty 2006 Canon PowerShot SX1IS with macro and zoom features – I can’t be trusted to actually make the effort to change a lens. 🙂

  2. Delightful article and excellent photography! Thank you for the links, heading to the migration tracker now!

      • Your photography has always been so good! As a matter of fact, I found your blog on an image search! The interesting photo is what made me click on the link. Wish I could remember which one it was – going to look back on my saved photos 😀! Hope your August is full of beautiful late summer light and shooting stars!

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