Wednesday, June 13, 2012

White Admiral

White Admiral -- © Dave Spier

Sounds like a naval officer in dress uniform...

From outward appearances alone, it would be hard to guess that the White Admiral butterfly, Limenitis (= Basilarchia) arthemis arthemis, is closely related to the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), the Monarch imitator (or mimic). The former is nearly black with a prominent pair of arced white stripes on the wings. The latter is orange with black edges and veins. What they do share are reduced front legs with hairs, hence the family name, Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae), the largest family of true butterflies. Many members are familiar, partly due to medium or large size, and frequently visit flowers. (See my Red Admiral blog.) Butterflies themselves are sometimes nicknamed "flying flowers."

The White Admiral can be regarded as a northern species. It ranges from Canadian forests south into central New England, then down through the mountains to Pennsylvania and westward to Minnesota. Its southern counterpart is the Red-spotted Purple, essentially the same butterfly without white stripes (probably an evolved trait to avoid predators). For this reason, the White Admiral is sometimes called the Banded Purple. Where the two subspecies overlap from southern Maine to Michigan and Iowa, they freely interbreed.

This White Admiral was on my driveway, not its typical habitat.  All photos © Dave Spier

The White Admiral's preferred habitat is open forests and woodland edges where its larvae feed on Black and Yellow Birch (both of which have a wintergreen flavor, if that matters), plus willows and aspens (both in the willow family), and to a lesser extent hawthorns and maybe shadbushes (with these last two in the rose family). Adults drink nectar, running sap and aphid honeydew or feed on fruit, carrion and dung.

I use my Canon 300mm/f4 like a long macro lens when photographing large insects. [body: Canon XT, exp.: 1/500, 5.6, ISO 400] Personal style preferences include "cloudy" as my default white balance, but it easily can be changed because I shoot RAW.

Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome at

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