The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Chapter 17: White /Red-spotted Admiral in the Trees

Dear Wood Folk,

A while back we covered the red admiral, who despite the shared moniker admiral, is quite different from the white AKA red-spotted purple admiral (limenitis arthemis) we’re featuring today. They aren’t even in the same family! Surprisingly, today’s featured “admiral” is more closely related to monarchs.

The appearance of limenitis arthemis is sometimes a mimicry of a poisonous butterfly, the pipevine swallowtail. They are called “red-spotted purple admirals” in this case. Haliburton’s version looks more like the red admiral, except it has a white band: the “white admiral” morph. These two extremes look like different butterflies, and then there’s hybridization between non-mimetic and mimetic.

Sometimes whether they get called white or red-spotted purple is based off location (white admirals being further north). I’m not sure if we’re north enough for strict classification, but they appear to be white admirals here.

White Admiral / Red-Spotted Purple Plant Allies

Like their close relation monarchs, white admirals may use milkweed as a host plant. But most of their host plants are trees or shrubs.

There’s both bumble bee favourites basswood and willow. As well as cherries like black cherry, choke cherry and pin cherry. Serviceberry, apple and hawthorn shrubs and trees may also do.

White admiral caterpillars like nibbling on birches (such as yellow and paper) and poplars and aspens. The white admiral’s caterpillars have fitting camo for all these leaves and branches – they look like bird droppings.

For those with an herb or vegetable garden, fennel may attract them too.

Like the other butterflies who overwinter here, adults will drink from rotting carcasses, animal dung, tree sap, and decaying flowers. They overwinter as half grown caterpillars though, unlike some of our spring butterflies who overwinter as adults. White admirals don’t come out as early in spring as mourning cloaks, Compton tortoiseshells, or commas either. Look for them in mixed forests or deciduous woodlands closer to summer.

Not Just Flowers: Trees Are Important For Pollinators Too

Trees are some of the most important host plants: Oak #1

As far as North American species go, oak is the most popular tree for supporting wildlife. It supports close to 600 species coast to coast. Oak trees have even made The New York Times: Why You Should Plant Oaks. If you’ve got the space, planting diverse native tree and shrub species is a wonderful way to boost biodiversity in your area.

We’ll be featuring Commas and Question Marks, the monarch lookalike Viceroys, and pretty Sulphurs in the next few Wood Folk Diaries. And then I’m switching it up to Ontario’s poisonous plants for a time! I’m stoked to start out with some bittersweet nightshade in August 🙂 Here are our subscription options if you’d enjoy this too!

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