Paula's Patch: A Minnesota Garden

Come wander in; my gate is always open! Gardening / Birding

Red Admiral Butterfly April 3, 2012

red admiral butterfly | vanessa atalanta | | paula bonelli

I don’t ever remember seeing the Red Admiral butterfly (latin name Vanessa atalanta) this early in the year. There aren’t many things in bloom from which to gather nectar.

On a recent warm day, my hubby and I were sitting on the deck when we noticed 2 flitting around. They kept landing on window frames, floodlights and other inanimate objects. They were smaller than our summer Admirals with less vivid coloring.

We watched as performed this dance circling around each other while flying straight up. Some sort of mating ritual? Seems so according to University of Michigan Museum of Zoology ¹.

Red Admirals rapidly change direction throughout the course of their flight. They are most active throughout the spring and fall months and flight time lasts from March until November. Adult Red Admirals hibernate throughout the winter months. ¹

Their reproduction cycle includes patrolling areas in order to find female mates, typically perching upon sunlit spots, in the mid-afternoon, to wait for females to fly by. ¹

The female lays her eggs on host plants such as milkweed, aster and alfalfa; none of which are quite ready yet here in MN. They were most likely on their migratory path from the north of Canada southward gathering food from fermenting fruits, bird droppings (ew!), and sap from trees. We have evergreens weeping sap this time of year. Maybe this was a source of food on that day. I also found migratory information that said they migrate from south to north in the Spring, but either way I think they were passing through.

Have you seen butterflies yet this year? You can share what you’ve seen by commenting below!

¹ Source: Downing, A. 2000. “Vanessa atalanta” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 03, 2012 at

Red Admiral update:
One of my readers, Christy K., sent me these awesome pictures she took of Red Admirals. She spotted 30-50 of them on her cherry tree on April 15! Thanks for sharing them, Christy! 😀

A related post by Scott, a fellow writer/blogger.


7 Responses to “Red Admiral Butterfly”

  1. I also had 2 I spied here–Wasn’t sure what I had though–thanks for the information!

    • Paula B Says:

      Another unusual sighting this early…this weekend I’m putting out my nectar and grape jelly feeders. Have a feeling the orioles and hummers are soon to arrive.

      • Bonnie Says:

        We are seeing many down here in Portage, MI! I have never had so many and this early. We spotted them today after 2 days of bad weather.

      • Paula B Says:

        How strange! Today is cold and breezy here (40’s after 70’s yesterday). The poor birds don’t know what to do and I hope all my spring bulbs and spring shrubs won’t be affected. Time will tell…

        Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Christy Says:

    On April 15th, I was delighted to find 30 – 50 Red Admirals on the Cherry tree in my garden. It seemed that they were feeding on the cherry blossoms. I was so thrilled that I spent an hour taking photos. I got some GREAT shots, would love to send a couple to you to post, respond if you would like me to send them.

  3. Scott Says:

    The red admirals suddenly have suddenly caught our attention in large numbers over the last week here in southeastern PA. I’ve been wondering what they were up to when flying in tight circles of half a dozen or more.

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