Monday, January 24, 2011

Red Admiral

Red Admiral basking on Oak Tree

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta,  nectaring at Salvia, Indigo Spires
The Red Admiral's bold markings are distinctive, even at a distance.

The water in the birdbaths had frozen solid overnight and was slowly melting in the late morning sun.   This had been a cold January by Galveston County standards, so I was surprised to see a butterfly nectaring at the blossoms of the indigo spires salvia.  Of course I had to go see who it was, but the critter startled easily and flew away fast.  I dismayed of ever getting a photo.  Fortunately, it settled comfortably on the sunny side of our Nutall Oak Tree.  Spreading its wings wide, with its head toward the ground,  it basked in the winter sunlight and soaked up some rays.  This battered butterfly needed a sip of nectar and a solar recharge.  After a while, the Red Admiral was flying again.   

For that’s what is was - a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta,  quite easy to identify once it sat still.  Red Admirals are among the family Nymphalidae, the Brush-Footed Butterflies.   Brush-footed butterflies have tiny, vestigial forelegs.  This is not visible in my Red Admiral photos, but if you look back to my “Fritillary Euthanasia” entry, you may see the reduced front legs.  Another characteristic which you can see are the prominent knobs on the antennae. This species has a huge range - nearly all of North America and parts of Central America. Masses of Red Admirals have been known to migrate south, but adult Red Admirals can hibernate during the winter, as can the pupae.  I am sure in our southern county the temperatures are confusing. Their larval host plants include nettles, Urticaceae,  and other plants in that family.  

Several of my books mention that if you have a Red Admiral in your summer garden, it may regularly rest on your arm or shoulder.  Is this territorial butterfly trying to scare you away from its food source?  Are you a convenient basking spot or it is sipping salt and minerals from your skin?   Either way, how delightful to have a butterfly rest upon you!