Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Papilio atalanta Linnaeus 1758. Type locality: not stated [Defined as “Sweden” by W. D. Field (1971), Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology (84): 15; based on Linnaeus’ reference to Fauna Svecica.]
Vanessa atalanta italica Stichel 1900. Type locality: ?? Italy
Vanessa atalanta (Linnaeus) Godart 1919
Cynthia atalanta (Linnaeus) Gunder 1927
Pyrameis atalanta (Linnaeus) Doubleday 1949
Papilio ammiralis Godart 1821. Type locality: ??
The North American population is separated as subspecies rubria by some authors:
Pyrameis atalanta rubria Fruhstorfer 1909. Type locality: Mexico
Vanessa atalanta rubria (Fruhstorfer) Verity 1950
Many other names have been given, mostly to color variations and aberrations.
Above, adult is dark brown to black with a broad red band on the hind wings and red stripe diagonally across each forewing; tips of forewings have a pattern of white spots. Below, the leading edge of the forewing is marked with red, white and blue; otherwise mostly mottled grey/brown.
Caterpillar highly variable "ranging from almost white or pale yellow-green to black;usually heavily salted with pale flecking."(1)
Almost cosmopolitan in subtropical, temperate, and boreal northern hemisphere. Introduced in some other regions, including Hawaii.
Varies with region, in most areas seen from spring to autumn freezing, with at least two adult broods. Hibernates thru winter in some areas, apparently (always?) as adults. Perhaps cannot survive winters in parts of northernmost U.S. and Canada. It has been thought that in northern North America it perhaps died out every year. There is more recent evidence that northern individuals may travel south each year, perhaps as far as Mexico. Flies year-round in southernmost U.S., Mexico and Central America.
Caterpillar feeds on various plants in the Urticaceae (Urtica, Parietaria, Boehmeria, Pipturus, etc.) and Cannabaceae (Humulus), also reported are Asteraceae (Helichrysum and Thistles), Salicaceae (Salix).
note [David Ferguson, September 8, 2017]: Thistle is perhaps officially documented somewhere for Red Admiral caterpillars (I haven't found where), but personally I've never seen them use thistle (nor any other Composite), and wonder if the report is actually based on mistakenly identified Painted Lady caterpillars? Or, perhaps somebody confused Nettles for Thistles? The adults of Red Admirals (and many other butterflies) do love Thistle flowers, and there are many reports of adult Red Admirals nectaring at various Thistles.
There are several state and commercial circulars printed (mostly relating to Soy Beans) that list both Painted Lady and Red Admiral as "Thistle Caterpillars", but I can find no basis for the Red Admiral being included as such. I can only find official records of Red Admiral using members of the Urticaceae & Cannabaceae as larval food plants. I have found no "verified" records for Helichrysum or Salix either, and Field [1971: 15] suspected these reports to be based upon captive forced rearings.
Overwinters as pupae and adults in the South.
1. Eggs. 2. First instar caterpillars. 3. Later instar caterpillar. 4. Caterpillar in built-up shelter. 5. Chrysalis. 6. Adult
Caterpillar makes a larval shelter, either tying up the leaves of a shoot tip, or usually later in the life cycle rolling a leaf.
The Red Admiral and Painted Lady Research Site
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Iowa State University
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Animal Diversity Web
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