Backyard Bugs: The Red Admiral


Photos – Val Solash


Stinging Nettle

This handsome fellow gets his name because someone thought his markings resembled those of a ranking admiral.  Those bright vermillion bands  and his dorsal wing white spangles makes this black butterfly very recognizable in the butterfly world. The underwings are mottled browns, perfect for camouflage.  Observe too, his hairy legs which put him a class of butterflies commonly called “brush-foot” and scientifically called Nymphalidae. Since Red’s favorite host plant is one I avoid whenever possible, only those enured to its formic acid injections should check out the stinging nettle for eggs and caterpillars. These caterpillars are black and covered in branched spines with little yellow chevrons lining the lateral surfaces of their chubby bodies.  Generally they will be found in rolled up leaves.  After pupating for a few weeks, the adult emerges from the chrysalis and the cycle repeats, often twice in a year.  This butterfly  is fiercely territorial and will chase out all interlopers once he has claimed his “spot”.  He will wait here for females who recognize his property assessment skills.  As an adult, the Admiral prefers nectars and saps and that’s when he stops by my backyard for a smorgasbord of flower nectars before heading off to Guatemala for the winter.

Val Solash, Edmonton Master Naturalist 2015Admiral2

Extra reading:    Canada boasts the  Largest butterfly migration on record

Backyard Bugs: The Mourning Cloak


Photos- Val Solash

Always the first butterfly of spring,  this common beauty hibernates as an adult through the winter.  During the first warm days of late winter or early spring,  Mourning Cloaks will awaken from their torpor and commence to fly around and mate. Often, I spot them when walking through Mill Creek or Whitemud parks, flitting just out of reach on sunny perches near the path ahead.  You can’t miss them for they are lovely and large, with rich, dark chocolate, velvety wings decorated with buttery yellow tips and sprinkled with iridescent sky blue dots.   These members of the Angle Wing family of butterflies, will lay their eggs in elms, willows or poplars. They are known for brood overlap, with one hatching in early summer and another in late summer.  The caterpillars are just as beautiful as the butterflies, with dark bodies sporting a line of crimson dots from head to tail and with matching red legs.  To make him a unappetizing treat to those who might be so inclined, his two inch body is covered with black spines. Next, the Mourning Cloak morphs into a pupa sporting a neutrally colored chrysalis. The metamorphosis to an adult butterfly will take a few weeks.    As winter approaches, these butterflies will look for a suitable cavity to overwinter ensuring  that by staying close to home and not migrating like many of their cousins, they will be the first butterflies on the scene next spring.

Val Solash, Edmonton Master Naturalist 2015

mourning cloak2

Time-lapse video of Mourning Cloak Metamorphosis