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Red Admiral Butterfly

Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta

picture of red admiral butterfly
Red Admiral butterfly enjoying the nectar of Verbena bonariensis.

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a migrant, coming to Northern Ireland from Southern Europe and North Africa from May onwards. The name is a corruption of 'admirable', due to their bright colours, so it does not have a nautical reference. Some overwinter so there can be sightings all year round, but the largest numbers are seen in late summer and early autumn. Some fly south, a few hibernate, but most die off in the cold weather

The males and females both have similar patterns on their wings, but the females are usually slightly larger with a wingspan of 65-75mm. The wings are mainly black with bars of red diagonally on the forewing and at the edge of the hindwing, white spots break up the outer triangle of the forewing. The undersides of the hindwing have a mottled pattern which helps to conceal it as it roosts. They feed on nectar from many flowers including Buddleia, Sedum, Clover and Hebe, or they can be seen on rotting fruit.

red armiral closed wings

The early arrivals lay eggs and the nearly black caterpillars are about 35mm in length with yellow spots along their sides, and have hairy spines. These develop over the summer and pupate to produce a later generation in the autumn.