Red-Spotted Purple

Limenitis arthemis astyanax
Nymphalidae (brushfooted butterflies)

Adults are thought to be pipevine swallowtail mimics and can be difficult to separate from dark swallowtails if seen in flight at a distance. Note the lack of tails, the black lines near the hindwing margin above, and the red-orange spots beneath. No swallowtails have ventral red-orange spots near the body.

The larvae mimic bird droppings. They are humped at the thorax and covered with numerous tubercles, with one longer pair on the thorax. Body color is mottled shades of brown, brownish yellow, white and green.

Wingspan: 2¼–3½ inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
Found in and near woods, parks and suburban neighborhoods. Adults frequently sit on trees and shrubs, slowly opening and closing their wings. The red-spotted purple is a “form” or subspecies of a butterfly called the white admiral. “Typical” white admirals have prominent white bands and occur far north of Missouri. The zone of intergrades between the two forms runs from Minnesota through Michigan to New Jersey and New Hampshire.
Larvae feed on a the foliage of a wide variety of deciduous trees and shrubs, including willows, wild cherry, apple and crab apple. The adults absorb moisture and nutrients from puddles, damp ground, decaying fruit and animal droppings.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Common breeding resident.
Life cycle: 
Adults fly from May through October. Partially grown caterpillars hibernate through winter sheltered in a rolled leaf that is spun into a tube and secured to the twig with silk. During hibernation, the caterpillar’s breathing and metabolic rate slow; its blood thickens, and the percentage of water in the body drops from 80 percent to 55 percent to prevent freezing damage.
Human connections: 
Although the spots are really orange and not red, and the color blue is more noticeable than the subtle violet hues, the red-spotted purple is a stunning sight, which evokes awe and appreciation in people.
Ecosystem connections: 
The lookalike pipevine swallowtail is toxic to its would-be predators. The red-spotted purple is palatable but has a color pattern that mimics the toxic species. Predators avoid both of them on sight. The larvae use coloration to avoid being eaten, too—they resemble unappetizing bird droppings!
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