Today we have the life of a butterfly, with photos by Mary Rasmussen. Mary’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
The Red Admiral Butterfly
I always leave a few Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in my garden here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Nettles are popular with the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) but also feed a variety of other moth and butterfly caterpillars.
Like many Monarch butterflies, Red Admirals are migratory. Most northern Red Admirals are thought to migrate south each fall, but some may overwinter. Red Admirals do not survive the coldest winters and most of North America is re-populated by southern butterflies migrating north in the spring. They are a very welcome sight here in mid-spring:
Female laying an egg. The butterfly’s reproductive organs are located near the lower tip of the abdomen. You can see the tiny green egg that she will deposit on a Nettle leaf. The egg’s surface has a glue that will hold it on the leaf:
Macro shot of a Red Admiral egg on a Stinging Nettle leaf. You can see the hollow stinging hairs of the Nettle leaf. I’ve learned that I can grasp the plant while moving my hand upwards and not suffer any consequences. Moving your hand down along the plant is definitely not recommended.
Caterpillars feed primarily on plants in the Nettle family (Urticaceae). They sew a leaf closed around them to make a protective nest and then eat their way out. They do this several times while they are maturing:
The caterpillar hangs down and forms a “J” shape, signalling that it will soon pupate.
The newly emerged butterflies have brilliant coloration. Their underwings are particularly beautiful:
I use a Nikon D500 camera with Nikon VR 105mm f/2.8G macro lens. For the butterfly egg I used a Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro lens with extension tubes.
Caterpillars of Eastern North America, Princeton Field Guides, by David L. Wagner
This guide has an index of the caterpillars and most useful is the index of food plants. Many times I have been able to identify a caterpillar by looking up the plant it is munching.