Vanessa atalanta
Red Admiral

Family Description:
Alternate Common Name:

Caterpillar: The caterpillar occurs in varying combinations of light and dark, such as black and yellow, or dark brown and light brown, and is dotted with white. The body is covered with tiny bumps and branching spines. It reaches a maximum, full-grown length of 1 inches.
Adult: This is a medium to large butterfly, with a wingspan of 1 to 3 inches. The outer edge of the forewing is slightly scalloped, and the tip is squared off. The upperside is black and marked with a wide, curved band of orange roughly forming a semi-circle across the fore- and hindwing. The tip of the forewing is spotted with white, and the orange on the hindwing is dotted with black. The rear, inside corner of the hindwing has a small patch of blue. Underneath, the forewing is pinkish orange near the base and mottled brown, black, and white towards the tip. The underside of the hindwing is mottled dark brown, black, and white.

This butterfly is holarctic, which means it occurs in the temperate regions of the entire Northern Hemisphere. It can be found everywhere in the U.S., and occurs throughout most of Idaho.

It utilizes virtually every kind of habitat, particularly moist woods, meadows, and fields.


Caterpillar: Caterpillars feed on the leaves of stinging nettles (Urtica spp.), and other members of the nettle family (Urticaceae).
Adult: Butterflies use tree sap, rotting fruit, and bird droppings for food, and occasionally drink flower nectar.

Each caterpillar lives and eats in a nest made of young leaves bound by silk. There are two generations of caterpillars each summer in most of its range, and four or more in the extreme south. Adults migrate north every spring, and some may return south in the fall. They exhibit a fast and jerky flight. The butterfly can overwinter in a physiological state called diapause, but only where winter is relatively mild.

Males perch typically in the afternoon or evening to wait for receptive females. Green eggs are laid singly by females on the uppersides of host plant leaves.

Idaho Status: Unprotected nongame species.
Global Rank:

G5; populations are widespread, abundant, and secure.

Ferris, C. D. and F. M. Brown. (eds.) 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain States. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, USA, 442 pp.

Opler, P. A., H. Pavulaan, and R. E. Stanford. 1995. Butterflies of North America. Jamestown, North Dakota, USA: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page. (Version 05Nov98).

Opler, P. A. and A. B.Wright. 1999. A Field Guide to the Western Butterflies.   Second Edition.  Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, USA, 540 pp.

Pyle, R. M. 1981. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, New York, USA, 924 pp.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 583 pp.

Stanford, R. E. and P. A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of Western U.S.A. Butterflies (Including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico). Published by authors, Denver, Colorado, USA, 275 pp.