Wild Guide

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From Missouri Conservationist: November 2017

Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)


A common Missouri butterfly. In the same genus as American lady and painted lady butterflies.


1½–2¼ inches long; larvae to about 2 inches



Here today, gone tomorrow. That’s the way of the male red admiral.

Because they roam widely when feeding, a male rarely uses the same territory for more than one day. The best perching sites and surrounding territory tend to be selected by different males each day. Though they are common in woods, edges of woods, and grassy, open areas, especially gardens, the red admiral you see today might not be the red admiral you see tomorrow, especially if it’s a male on the prowl.

Life Cycle

The red admiral arrive from the south in March and continue to fly into November. Females lay eggs singly on leaves of host plants. Larvae roll the leaves, using silk tobind the edges together, constructing a little shelter for themselves. Hibernation occurs in the adult or pupal stage, though they do not survive very cold temperatures. Regions with cold winters are recolonized by new butterflies arriving north in spring.


Caterpillars eat plants in the nettle family, including wood nettle (Laportea) and stinging nettle (Urtica). Adult red admirals drink tree sap, juices from decaying fruit, and moisture from animal droppings. Secondarily, they visit flowers, including milkweeds, clovers, and asters. They are also found at mud puddles and in damp places along creek beds and lake shores.

Ecosystem Connections

In fits of itchy discomfort, we’ve all wondered “Why are there stinging nettles?” That question is answered in part by this beautiful butterfly,  which requires nettle plants in order to live. This is a wonderful reminder that nature is inter connected, and it doesn’t revolve around us.

Did You Know?

The species name, “atalanta,” comes from a character in Greek mythology. The orphaned Atalanta was raised in the woods by a bear and grew up to be an awesome and independent huntress.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler