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Red Admiral

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

A familiar garden butterfly, especially later in the year.


  • Red Admiral: an admirable butterfly

    Post date: Wednesday, 22 July, 2015 - 00:00

    Finding a perfect specimen of a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), looking straight out of the chrysalis, reminded me just what striking butterflies they are. The markings are similar to the painted lady but the colours so much bolder and vivid. You cannot really mistake this species for any other butterfly, even at a disatnce. 

    I always look on the red admiral as a an 'English' butterfly but in fact they are largely migratory. They are extremely hardy insects and some manage to successfully hibernate and we see them emerge in early spring. By April and May we start to see an influx from the warmer south and by the late summer and early autumn we see the offspring of those early arrivals emerge along with yet more immigrants. They love to feed on rotting fruit and, depending on the weather, they can be out and about well into November and even beyond. Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that there is a southerly migration in autumn to warmer climes, just like some bird species.

    The red admiral is so famliiar it is easy to take them for granted but we should never do that!


  • Red Admiral in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    Post date: Friday, 3 May, 2019 - 07:23

    The red admiral must be one of the most instantly recognisable of British butterflies; it is a familiar sight in gardens, parks and open countryside. It is so familiar that one would think this was a resident species but it is not, it is a migrant arriving in May and June having travelled from north Africa. These early arrivals lay eggs once they arrive and these hatch in to adults later in the summer but numbers are also continually boosted by new arrivals, especially in late summer, and it is from late August through until October that they seem to be most numerous. There is some evidence to suggest that some return back across the channel to mainland Europe as the autumn turns to winter, other succumb to the severe winter conditions and some find sheltered places to hibernate. These hibernating insects will often awake on warmer days in winter and that accounts for why you can actually see them in even January and February.

    The red admiral is one of the most regularly reported butterflies in the Nature of Dorset database with ninety five reports in 2017 and 2018 combined. What is remarkable perhaps is that there are records every month from February 2017 through until December 2018 without a break. This demonstrates that some successfully over winter here on the south coast especially as the last two winters have been relatively mild. For much of the year there are just odd reports in most weeks but in September and October the number of reports surges to reflect the combination of more incoming migrants as well as emerging new adults from the eggs laid by the early arrivals.

    You can encounter red admiral just about anywhere in Dorset with nearly 120 sites reporting them but if you look at the sites where the most are recorded you will see they are all coastal which shows they are most frequently seen arriving or preparing to leave, often in autumn.


Common Name Red Admiral
Scientific Name Vanessa atalanta
Species Group Nymphalid Butterflies Admirals and Fritillaries
Interest Level
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Identification Notes
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
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Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Nymphalid Butterflies Admirals and Fritillaries