The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Chapter 9: Red Admirals in the Nettle

Dear Wood Folk,

Red admirals (vanessa atalanta) are known for being social butterflies. These painted lady relatives are one of the friendliest and most common butterfly species in the world. Their main host plants belong to the nettle family (urticaceae). Nettles are also global, though some nettles may not seem as friendly as their butterfly allies, with their stinging prickles.

You may spot red admirals in parks or your own yard, though they favour moist areas near the woods; wet fields, bogs, fens, etc. That happens to be where you might find our native wood nettle.

Red admirals (vanessa atalanta)
Red admiral (vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral Plant Allies

In North America, there are two annual broods, the later of which migrates south for the winter (in our case at least; that is central Ontario, Canada).

Red admiral eggs are both similar in colour to their host plant nettle and also have prickle/hair-like structures for camouflage. They may occasionally be found on other flowering plants. And cannabaceae family plants, which around here would be limited to nonnative hops vine. Continuing to camo, the caterpillars make leafy nest shelters on these same plants. Eventually they will make their chrysalis which looks like a dried up leaf.

Adults will visit flowering plants like aster, bee balms, goldenrods and milkweed – typical butterfly favourites. However, they prefer sucking nutrients from tree sap, rotting fruit, and animal scat. You can put overripe fruits out for them, like bananas. Note this will attract yellowjackets and similar insects too.

Butterfly watering stations may also lure red admirals. On walks you might spot them wicking up minerals near muddle puddles. Puddles you could mimic in your garden. Plans for these can be found online and are called butterfly puddlers, butterfly water feeders, and sometimes garden plates.

A Note on White / Red-spotted Admirals

Of the white and red-spotted, red-spotted admiral (limenitis arthemis) is listed for our area on iNat. These “admirals” are more related to Viceroys. Like red admirals, they are brush-footed butterflies, part of the largest family of butterflies. Limenitis arthemis splits into two groups.. When the red-spotted has a white band along upper side and underside of the wings, it’s rather called a white admiral. Reds are more southern, whites more northern, and there is plenty of overlap.

Limenitis arthemis
Is it purple-spotted or white? Leave your answer in the comments!

These admirals are also widespread. They’re in our forests and forest edges and clearings. We’ll save them for a future diary, because they use completely different host plants! But I thought I better mention them, as the shared name could make people think nettles would attract these ones too!

Stinging Nettle
Stinging Nettle

We’ve covered the very common stinging nettle before, and wood nettle will be featured this October. Within yards and gardens, I tend to leave some stinging nettle even though technically this one (pictured) isn’t native.

Next months flower and butterfly combo is surprising to me. Such a big butterfly.. Such a little purple flower.. subscribe to our socials and turn on the notifications to not miss it!

Please Like, Comment, Share! We'd love to hear your stories and knowledge! Thank you!

Leave a Comment