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Red Admiral X West Coast Lady - Vanessa atalanta rubria X Vanessa annabella - Vanessa - male

Red Admiral X West Coast Lady - Vanessa atalanta rubria X Vanessa annabella - Vanessa - Male
Northeast Thousand Oaks, Ventura County, California, USA
April 25, 1972
This image is scanned from a 35mm slide, so it is not quite as sharp as new digital images. This is a male, ex-larva on Urtica dioica holosericea (nettle) and Alcea rosea (hollyhock). Collected on nettles growing along a seasonal creek.

Images of this individual: tag all
Red Admiral X West Coast Lady - Vanessa atalanta rubria X Vanessa annabella - Vanessa - male Red Admiral X West Coast Lady - Vanessa atalanta rubria X Vanessa annabella - Vanessa - male

And - check out
how much the Californian hybrids look like several of the Asian types

article pondering if Vanessa indica once occured in North America - go to the color plate

photos of hybrids
There are some photos at Butterflies of America here:

The heading and the thumbnails are titled as, "aberrations" under the heading of Vanessa atalanta rubria, but the individual photographs are captioned correctly as hybrids (which are not technically aberratations, even though hybridization is perhaps an "aberrant" behavior).

Vanessa atalanta rubria x Vanessa annabella

The type specimen of "edwardsii" is shown here too, and is also this same hybrid. However, the photos are so dark that it's difficult to see the coloring and pattern properly. The photos are incorrectly captioned as "Vanessa atalanta rubria".

Interested in the hybrid
I found your page about this Vanessa atalanta x anabella hybrid and had a couple questions about it. For one, California is the only place I have been able to find where this hybrid is documented. Red Admirals occur in all of the West Coast Lady's range. Does this imply that the right factors for hybridization occur in California? Also, does either parent species copulate with other vanessa species, namely cardui and virginiensis? Finally, are you aware of any back crosses, or have knowledge that these hybrids are fertile? Answers to any of these questions will help. Thank you.

Hi Dillon
I'm just sticking my two cents worth in here. I've never been lucky enough to find a Vanessa hybrid, but I suspect this could occur anywhere the two species meet. There are a lot of potential factors that might affect where or how often it occurs though.

One potential factor that comes to mind is host plant availability. V. anabella favors Mallows over Nettles, but uses both. If this species is the mother and oviposits on a Mallow, a hybrid larva might not be able to survive, but purhaps it can on something in the Nettle family, which both species use in the absence of Mallows.

I expect the nature of habitat and relative abundance of the two species in an area could be important too. In some areas the two species might rarely interact, with [for instance] V. atalanta sticking to wooded areas and V. anabella to more open areas, while in other areas they might accur together abundantly in the same habitats. Or, perhaps one being very abundant and the other rare in an area would promote cross-mating. I have no data, this is all just anecdotal guessing.

As for either of these two hybridizing with either of the other two Vanessa species found in North America, I suspect it's less likely to happen, and less likely to be successful, because they are considerably less closely related. [to me, V. anabella/carye seems much more related to various "Admiral" species such as V. atalanta and V. indica, and even to the Hawaiian Lady, than it does to any of the other American "Ladies".]

Just as a side note - here in central New Mexico, I rarely see a Red Admiral, it is an event when I do. Yes they are here, but they don't hang out in open grassland and desert much, and the towns aren't quite good enough usually either. However, up in the mountains nearby they are occasionally abundant. On the other hand, the Western Ladies are quite abundant here, but not so much up in the mountains. But, as long as there are nectar sources and host plants, they are around, high or low.

Thanks for the info. Here I Oregon, Red Admirals are far more common, however I only saw my first west coast lady a few days ago, which is what brought me here. When it came to breeding I hadn't thought about it that way. If your theory on an abundance of one species and the lack of another can lead to hybridization, then maybe I'll see one someday on the Oregon Coast. Again, thank you for your help.

Regarding the cited 2011 paper on Vanessa phylogeny
Vanessa paper link

This is a great paper, and definitely worth looking at. It was a long overdue study that really helped to clarify relationships within Vanessa (and it's relation to other genera). It reinforced a fair amount of Field's 1971 treatment, with a few major exceptions such as placement of V. annabella/carye, and the separation of Cynthia from Vanessa (which is not supported). It also helps to reinforce inclusion in Vanessa of a few species that Field didn't consider, that were traditionally placed in Antanartia. The following is basically rationalization, but meant to be thought provoking.

Results such as those shown in this paper are based on statistical propabilities, and while most likely are correct (or at least mostly correct), still need to be taken somewhat with a grain of salt as being preliminary. It is still possible that V. annabella is indeed more closely akin to the V. atalanta group than implied by the results shown in the paper. There could be a molecular anomolies such as unique changes in DNA, conserved ancestral states, or results of past hybridization events, that are unique to the annabella/carye clade, and not shared with the others, that are skewing the results. This could result in a false placement in the rooting of this branch in the trees produced by the analyses.

Ignoring the molecular results, there are the hybrids to consider - healthy female hybrids definitely imply close kinship. [It would be very interesting to learn if they are fertile and able to reproduce themselves.] Also, if you examine the color pattern of V. annabella/carye, it is much closer to V. atalanta, V. indica and kin in how it is constructed than to any of the other Vanessa species. [Most people assume V. annabella/carye to be one of the "American Painted Lady" group, because they are noticing the large amount of orange in V. annabella/carye that makes it superficially resemble the other American Ladies, even though the pattern is constructed rather differently.] Together, these make me think that incorrect rooting in the trees produced in the study could be true.

However, on the flip side. The color pattern could be misleading me too. It could be that V. annabella/carye and the atalanta group simply share pattern elements that are more "ancestral" and simply less altered than those seen in a more derived "American Lady" group. I could be making a similar but different false judgment based on color pattern to those who are looking at the increased orange. Also, the male genitalia are distinctly unique among the the genus in V. annabella/carye, which tends to jive with the more "ancestral" position shown by the 2011 study.

Anyway, the relationship indicated in the study is that the lineage including V. carye & annabella branched off before the other "Ladies" and "Red Admirals" separated from one-another. In a sense this might imply that V. annabella is less closely related to V. atalanta than V. atalanta is to any of the other American Ladies such as V. cardui. However, that "ancestral" thing could come into play again here. It could also be that the V. atalanta and V. annabella groups both conserve more ancestral traits (including DNA) than do perhaps more derived American "Ladies" such as V. cardui, and that the two groups are actually still more closely similar to one-another as far as reproductive purposes are concerned, than either group is to more "derived" Ladies, even if the more derived group split off after V. annabella/carye split off. The "Ladies" could have changed more since they split, than did the "Red Admirals". Did that make any sense? I know some of this is little more than "fishing", but I just wanted to point out possible uncertainties.

There might also be some confusion caused by what I'm writing if you have no idea what is meant by the various species groups (or "clades"). This involves a lot of species that aren't found in North America. These are all included in the cited 2011 study, and one can easily look up pictures of all of them on the internet. A few species occur on the "wrong" continent for their group (i.e. V. kershawi & abyssinica), isolated from their closest relatives, while a few others have wide multi-continent ranges (like V. cardui & V. atalanta), but most stick to where they aught to be based on relationships:

"American Ladies" include - V. altissima, brazilensis, myrinna, terpsichore, virginiensis, cardui, plus V. kershawi from Australia.

V. carye and V. annabella form a group of their own.

The "Red Admirals" or "Atalanta Group" includes the 8 or 10 species of Eurasia and the Pacific Islands (including Hawaii), plus V. abyssinica from Africa. And, to me this is the group to which V. annabella "looks" the most like.

V. gonerilla and V. itea from Australia and New Zealand are a group of their own.

V. dimorphica/hippomene form another group in Africa (long included incorrectly under Antanartia because of being African and having a bit of a tail on the hind wing). But, molecules and morphology (particularly of immatures) place them clearly within Vanessa

Wow, that was really interesting. One of the reasons that I had always believed that red admirals and west coast ladies were closely related was the wing shapes. Thanks for the information, it was a big help. Also, looking at the family tree fount in the link you posted, it displayed carye and anabella on a separate branch, which to me, suggests that they are a basal clade.

Vanessa hybrid
Hello, Dillon and David,
Like you, I can only speculate on which male species mated with which female species. Years ago I attempted to have both species mate in captivity by placing males of atalanta with females of annabella, and the males did actually court the females, but no pairings. Male annabella are usually much smaller than female atalanta, so there were no courtships with that combination. The female atalanta refused the male annabella. Regarding the three hybrids I collected as second instar larvae, I also raised atalanta from the very same plants.

Niklas Wahlberg and Daniel Rubinoff performed DNA sequences on all the Vanessa species. Their 2011 paper is a free download. Search for the title, “Vagility across Vanessa (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)” and it will come up. What they found, if I correctly interpret their cladogram, is that annabella and carye are the most distant relatives of atalanta. I know DNA doesn’t lie, but this is hard to believe. What is more, one of my three hybrids was a female. This would seem to indicate that annabella and atalanta are closely related. The only other case of hybridization in Vanessa is a single capture of V. itea X V. gonerilla in New Zealand, but then these two species are very closely related.

I believe all hybrids (so far) are Californian because it doesn’t freeze along the coast and the butterflies fly all year, plus there are more collectors here.

Your other three hybrids
In the journal linked on this article, I found three hybrids. Do you have any color photos of them? Thanks.

Thanks for the information. I've been interested in both hybrids and butterflies for quite some time now. This is really interesting for me. So far, I have seen photos of 4 individual hybrids; the one found above and the three from your caterpillar collecting. Do you now of any more. Again thanks so much.

Distinguishing Markings?
Yesterday, when watching mating Painted Ladies, I watched our resident couple - a Red Admiral and a West Coast Lady - as they fluttered around the mating couple. I wondered if they ever crossed. They have been a couple in our yard all Spring/Summer. Maybe they'll mate.

So I'd like to know what exactly I am looking for to id a crossbreed. I see that the area above the circles is dark. And it appears to have paler colorings. Anything else?


Not too hard. There are a number of published photos, and they all look relatively similar. The characteristics are intermediate, but basically the pattern is a combination of those of the parents. If you compare with V. atalanta, on the top side the base of the wings has more orange/brown coloring. The band crossing the front wing is paler and more orange than red, and it's broken in the middle. It also bleeds down a bit below and around the black bar at the end of the discal cell on the front wing (the dark bar near the middle front edge of the wing. On some the large pale bar near the tip of the wing is orange (as in annabella) instead of white (as in atalanta[i]). On the hind wing above there is a distinct row of eye spots that isn't developed on [i]V. atalanta. Below the hind wing there is a pale triangle in the middle that is typical of V. annabella but usually not noticeable on V. atalanta. And, so on. Really neat - aren't they!

I'll be on the lookout :)

I've been wanting to stumble onto some of these one day
But so far, haven't found any. I have found both species (along with Milbert's Tortoiseshells) looking all rather confusingly alike on the same Nettle plants many times, and often find Western and Painted Ladies on the same Hollyhocks and Mallows, but so far not a single hybrid. Am thinking about trying to make some aritificially.

Thomas, I found your article back when looking for information relating to Comstock's treatment of "edwardsi", close to when Field published his Vanessa work. Great stuff!

I've always thought that V. carye (aka. annabella) was closer to the mostly Old World "Admirals" than to the rest of the mostly New World "Ladies", and this is one bit of evidence in favor of that idea.

Moved from Ladies and Red Admirals.

Rearing hybrids
I once had one flight cage with male atalanta and female annabella and had many courtships and a few attempted copulations, but the females were not receptive. Still, with enough time and patience, one should be able to achieve some mixed pairings using the same rearing procedures used for atalanta or annabella alone. See my article "Culture Maintenance of Vanessa atalanta rubria (Nymphalidae) in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera, 1984, 23(3)236-240 for all the details. Since the hybrid larvae can use both hollyhocks and nettles, and probably mallows also, you don't have to hassle with the stinging nettles, and that's always a good thing. If using cut nettles from the wild, be sure to wash them well because they harbor minute pirate bugs which can decimate butterfly ova and young larvae.

Of the three hybrids I raised from wild-caught larvae in 1972, one was a female (erroneously reported as a male in the original Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society paper), but she was slightly crippled. Just getting a female indicates a greater degree of genetic compatibility I would think (Haldane's Rule).

Good luck if you try this!

Linking images...
When you submit more than one image of the same specimen, it is a good idea to link the images. This way you can assure that when someone clicks on an individual image they will be certain to see the other related images as well. I'm taking the lazy route here and will simply quote previously given instructions for doing this from one of the editors (thanks to Jim McClarin):

"The way to link separate images that are already posted is to click on Tag under each image you want to link. They will appear as thumbnails in the upper left corner of the bugguide window. Once you have thumbnails there of all the images you want to link, simply click in the Link Images link under these thumbnails, and they will appear just as if you had joined them with the first method."

Oh, and welcome to BugGuide!

I assume they are not the same individual. Larva images dated after the adult. 2 and 2 ?

Linking images
Thanks for the assistance! I'm pleased to be able to contribute.

You're welcome...
...and thank you for submitting such interesting images. Documenting a hybrid is already a nifty thing, but being able to include the images of the larval stage is really fantastic!

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