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Family Nymphalidae | Subfamily Nymphalinae | Previous | Next

Red Admiral
Vanessa atalanta (Linnaeus, 1758)

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Diagnosis: This familiar, medium-sized (wingspan: 45 to 57 mm) butterfly is easy to recognize, even on the wing. The dark blackish-brown upperside of each wing is crossed by a bright red band, that of the forewing being duplicated on the underside. The tip of the forewing upperside is black with a number of white spots. The hindwing underside is a mottled grey and green when fresh.

Subspecies: Subspecies rubria is found throughout North America.

Range: This is a holarctic species, found also in Europe and northern Asia. It is widespread in North America and is found from coast to coast in Canada, north to the tip of Newfoundland and to Churchill, Manitoba. There are also records in Yukon (Frances Lake) and the Northwest Territories (Fort Resolution, Fort Providence and Porter Lake).

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Similar Species: None in Canada.

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Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria), larva. W. Lukey

Early Stages: The larvae range from black to yellowish green and have yellow lateral stripes and branched spines. They are very sluggish and live in rolled leafnests on stinging nettle (Urtica spp.) and Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis), and sometimes on cultivated hops.

Abundance: Like other migrants, Vanessa atalanta varies in abundance, but is rarely completely absent from Canada in the summer. In good migrant years, like 1981, it can be extremely abundant.

Flight Season: Migrants are seen in May over most of southern Canada (mid-April at Point Pelee). There are two or possibly three generations per year, with fresh specimens seen even in September. They occasionally overwinter successfully in Canada in mild winters.

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Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria). Huntley Township, Ont. P.W. Hall

Habits: This is a conspicuous and aggressive butterfly that often claims a territory, like a road through a woods or even a parking lot, and defends it against all comers. Its habitat preferences vary widely, from clearings in woods to vacant lots in downtown areas. An avid flower visitor, it is regularly seen in gardens.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.

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Date Modified: 2010-05-31