E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Vanessa atalanta Fabricius, 1807
Red Admiral
Family: Nymphalidae (Brushfoots)
Species account authors: Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard.
Extracted from Butterflies of British Columbia
The Families of Lepidoptera of BC
Introduction to the Butterflies of BC
Photo of species

© Norbert Kondla  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #5143)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Vanessa atalanta in British Columbia
Details about map content are available here.

Species Information


Red Admirals are unmistakable, with their black upper wings marked with bold red stripes and white spots. Males and females are very similar in appearance. Male forelegs are much hairier than those of females.

Immature Stages

Eggs are light green and barrel-shaped, with about 9 vertical ribs. First instar larvae are greenish brown, with 10 rows of black hairs and with a black head (Edwards 1882b). Mature larvae are highly variable, but their basic coloration is grey, greenish, cream, cocoa, or black. They have minute light spots on the darker background. All the colour forms have a lateral band of greenish yellow or creamish patches (R. Ashton, pers. comm.). There are seven rows of long branching spines, usually black but sometimes pale. Red Admiral larvae have numerous stiff white hairs on the head, which are black in Painted Lady larvae (Dimock 1978). Apparently in Britain the nominate subspecies has mature larvae that are usually grey green to whitish (rarely black), with an indistinct lateral stripe. Pupae are similar to those of other Vanessa, the colour varying from reddish grey to greenish grey with a bronze sheen (Edwards 1882b).


V.a. rubria (Fruhstorfer, 1909) (TL: Mexico) is the North American subspecies, which has a narrower submarginal white bar on the forewing than the European nominate subspecies. The European subspecies is frequently found in "butterfly houses," and may occasionally escape into the wild in BC.

Genus Description

The name Vanessa is probably from Swift's poem of Cadenus and Vanessa (Reed 1870; Emmet 1991). The common name "ladies" is derived from that of the most common species in the genus, the Painted Lady.

Ladies in BC are predominantly medium-sized to large orange brown butterflies with black markings, except for the Red Admiral, which is black with red and white markings. Adults are strong, fast erratic flyers that are most easily approached when they are nectaring. Thistles, alfalfa, and asters are favourite nectar sources (CSG), probably because ladies are most abundant in mid to late summer, when these are the predominant nectar sources.

All four of the ladies in BC are migratory and without permanent populations in BC. There are nine species worldwide.


Red Admirals in Colorado hibernate as both pupae and adults (Brown et al. 1957). There is one record for 6 March 1984 near Sooke, BC (Gwyn Owen, pers. comm.), which must be of successful hibernation because that date is too early for a migrant from the south. From mid-April to June adults migrate into BC and lay eggs, with the next generation of adults emerging in late July and being in flight into October. Whether a southward migration occurs is unknown. Red Admirals will sometimes feed on the juice of split fruit such as plums (CSG). First instar larvae fold a small, just expanding leaf upward around themselves, and feed within. Second to fifth instar larvae fold nettle leaves downward into a "tent" and feed from within. In forming the tent they usually cut the midrib of the leaf near the base and cut the leaf membrane on both sides of the midrib, so that the leaf droops downward, and then fold the leaf around the lower surface. They sometimes fold a large nettle leaf and pupate within that (Edwards 1883, 1885b).

The primary larval foodplant in BC is stinging nettle (Harvey 1908; CSG). The only other member of the Urticaceae that occurs in BC, Parietaria pennsylvanica, is used in New York (Shapiro and Shapiro 1974). Hop (Humulus lupulus) is grown in the Fraser Valley and is used as a larval foodplant outside BC, where Boehmeria cylindrica and Parietaria debilis are also used (Scudder 1889a).


Red Admirals occur occasionally as migrants in central and northern BC except in the extreme northwest, and regularly as migrants in southern BC. They breed across southern and central BC in moist open or partially wooded areas, and in scattered localities further north. Preservation of patches of stinging nettle in out-of-the-way areas of parks and gardens would help maintain Red Admirals as urban butterflies.



Red Admirals occur throughout non-arctic North America south to Guatemala. They also occur throughout most of Europe and much of Asia.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS5YellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2021-12-02 7:30:08 PM]
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