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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

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General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.6-3.3 cm. Uppersurface black, forewing with white apical spots and red-orange median band, hindwing with red-orange marginal band; undersurface mottled blackish-brown, forewing costal margin with red, blue, and white patches mostly surrounded in black.

Two flights over much of range, late-June to early August and late August overwintering to May; several flights nearly all year in southern Texas, southern Florida, and lowland California (Scott 1986). March to November in southern California to Texas, mainly May to October northward(Glassberg 2001). Late March to late October with peaks in July and September in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002); February to November in Oregon (Warren 2005); mid-April to June and late July to October in British Columbia (Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by the uppersurface black base color with transverse red-orange median band across the forewing (the band also present on forewing undersurface) and the broad uppersurface hindwing marginal band of the same color.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Holarctic. Throughout North America south of arctic treeline from southeastern Alaska to Quebec and Newfoundland, south through Mexico to Guatemala (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001); to 3353 m elevation in Colorado (Brown 1957; Scott and Scott 1978), to 2195 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005), to 1067 m elevation in southeastern British Columbia (Threatful 1988). In Montana, reported across the state in most or all counties (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993). Mainly uncommon to common but often rare in Nevada, the Sierra Nevada, and Pacific Northwest (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 25

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Migratory; several mass northward movements documented in US and Canada, migration southward less evident to unlikely. Adults in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia probably do not survive the winter, requiring immigration to sustain presence in those regions (Scott 1986; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002).

Openings near stream courses, marshes, seeps, moist fields and meadows, city parks, gardens, hilltops (Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). In Glacier National Park, Montana reported from riparian areas (Debinski 1993).

Food Habits
Larval food plants most often are species of Urtica but also include Boehmeria, Humulus, Laportea, Parietaria, Pilea, Pipturus, and Soleirolia (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Pyle 2002; James and Nunnallee 2011). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Ageratum, Apocynum, Arnica, Asclepias, Beteroa, Bidens, Blephilia, Buddleia, Camassia, Ceanothus, Centaurea, Cersis, Chrysothamnus, Cirsium, Claytonia, Clematis, Cornus, Coronilla, Dicentra, Echinacea, Erigeron, Erioganum, Geranium, Gutierrezia, Helianthus, Hydrophyllum, Jamesia, Lithospermum, Machaeranthera, Medicago, Mertensia, Monarda, Nepta, Phacelia, Physocarpus, Polygonum, Prunus, Pycanthemum, Ratibida, Rhus, Ribes, Rorippa, Rosa, Rudbeckia, Salix, Senecio, Silphium, Solidago, Stachys, Symphoricarpos, Symphyotrichum, Syringa, Thalspi, Tilia, Trifolium, Vicia), tree sap, aphid honeydew, rotting fruit, carrion, and dung (Scott 1986, 2014; Pyle 2002; Tooker et al. 2002; James and Nunnallee 2011).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs singly on the uppersurface of host plant leaves. Eggs hatch in about 7 days (depending on temperature), develop rapidly from post egg-hatch L1 instar to L5 instar and pupation in 22 days; adults emerged from pupae (eclosed) in 14 days. Larvae solitary, build small silk nests, older larvae form shelters in folded leaves or a cluster of leaves. Pupation occurs on plant stems or under leaves; overwinter (hibernate) as adults, possibly as pupae (Scott 1979, 1986; Ferris and Brown 1981; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males territorial, perch on shrubs or ground on hilltops, porch roofs, other elevated sites, awaiting passing females (Scott 1975b, 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011).

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Citation for data on this website:
Red Admiral — Vanessa atalanta.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from