Thursday, May 3, 2012

Red Admirals

Red Admirals
© Dave Spier

On April 15, I received an email from a birding aquaintance who was more interested in the estimated 500 Red Admiral butterflies migrating through his yard. With that in mind, the following evening I noticed over a dozen Red Admirals racing and chasing each other above my driveway. They were moving so fast, I doubt I could have identified them without that heads-up in my mail. About the same time, I came across Laurie Dirkx' excellent photos of a Red Admiral ( More photos are on her Facebook page and flickr photo-sharing account. Write to me at Northeast Naturalist for more specific links. Laurie lives in the Town of Ontario, Wayne County, NY, and has a photography business.

With the return of milder weather after a brief cold snap, the Red Admirals have resumed activity. Many of them spent the winter as adults, while others remained in the chrysalis (pupa) stage. I’m not sure which history applies to the ones we’re seeing now. There was a short clip on tonight's local evening news about it. It's estimated the number of Red Admirals is about 10x the normal migration, probably due to the mild winter.

Red Admirals are dark above with a reddish-orange band across the middle of each forewing and continuing along the outer edge of each rear wing. The undersides are brown with bits of subdued color giving a camouflaged effect.

These butterflies feed on a variety of wildflowers and lay their eggs singly on nettle plants where the caterpillars eat the leaves. I’m still trying to get the nettles out of my one garden, but persistent roots keep it coming back every year. The nettles are mixed in with some peonies, making it difficult to eradicate them without digging up the whole patch and starting over. Now that I know about the connection to Red Admirals, I’m leaving other nettles in a wild patch at the back of our property. Speaking of nettles, they grow profusely along the dikes surrounding the ponds on the west side of the Montezuma Audubon Center.

Questions and corrections may be sent to

No comments: