Butterflies of Scotland
- Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
The Red Admiral or Vanessa atalanta (previously also known as Pyrameis atalanta) is a well-known colourful butterfly, found in temperate Europe, Asia and North America. The species is resident only in warmer areas, but migrates north in spring, and sometimes again in autumn. Its name is derived from the 18th century when it was known as "admirable".
It is a large (wingspan 6cm /2.4 inches), strong-flying butterfly, common in gardens and found throughout Britain and Ireland. Brown/black wings with red bands and white spots near the tips of forewings. Undersides dark and mottled.
This large black butterfly, with a flash of vivid orange-red across its forewings and around the edge of its rear wings and a splatter of white spots towards its wing-tips, is a common sight in Scottish gardens during mid-late summer. They are often found feeding on garden Buddleias, Michaelmas Daisy or flowering Ivy and rotting fruit in gardens and orchards during late summer/early autumn, sometimes in large numbers. Sightings of the Red Admiral can continue well into November on sunny days and some overwinter and are sometimes to be seen during December, January and February when almost all other species of butterfly are unlikely to be seen.
Starting each spring and continuing through the summer there are northward migrations, which are variable in extent and timing, from North Africa and continental Europe. The immigrant females lay eggs and consequently there is an emergence of fresh butterflies, from about July onwards. They continue flying into October or November and are typically seen feeding on garden buddleias or flowering Ivy and on rotting fruit. There is an indication that numbers have increased in recent years
In northern Europe, it is one of the last butterflies to be seen before winter sets in. The Red Admiral is also known to hibernate (in Southern England, rather than Scotland), re-emerging individuals showing prominently darker colourings than first brood subjects. The butterfly also flies on sunny winter days, especially in southern Europe. Unusually for a butterfly, the Red Admiral sometimes flies at night.
It can be found anywhere in the UK where abundant nectar sources are available and Common Nettle can be found. The primary larval food plant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) though Small Nettle (Urtica urens) and related species are also used.
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