San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Vanessa atalanta
Red Admiral

Family: NYMPHALIDAE (Brushfooted Butterflies)


A common, widespread species, the Red Admiral has wingspan of 2 - 2 5/8 inches. Upper sides are black with white spots and red-orange banding. Caterpillars are variable in color, ranging from black to greenish-yellow with black stripes.

Range and Habitat

Red Admirals prefer areas where water is nearby, such as streambeds, seeps, marshy areas, as well as coastal sage scrub and chaparral. Their range extends throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Natural History

Red Admirals depend on stinging nettles, in the family Urticaceae, as their host plant. The caterpillars make hibernacula by folding leaves and sewing them closed with silk. Chrysalises are brown and resemble dried leaves. Red Admirals overwinter as adults; adults frequently land on people and seem to prefer white t-shirts.

Related or Similar Species

Painted Lady

Red Admiral, photo by Bob Parks

Nymphalidae: Brushfooted Butterflies
A highly variable family with the largest number of species of all the families. The pair of front legs is reduced in size and not used for walking, hence the name brushfoot. Nymphalids are medium to large butterflies. Frequently eggs are laid in clusters and many larvae are gregarious, like to hang out together as a group. Members of this family are also known for nectaring on sap, rotten fruit, dung, and even animal carcasses. Diapause occurs either in the larval or adult stage.

Text by Margi Dykens and Christian Manion.
Photos by Bob Parks.

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