I made a new acquaintance today.

She was there on the outside of my porch screen again this morning, the second morning in a row, just basking in the sun and seemingly luxuriating in its warmth and light. Most of the time, she had her lovely wings outstretched, and seemed not to mind when I approached and took several pictures. I was mesmerized by the exquisite markings on her wings: brilliant reddish-orange bands (they looked more yellow through my camera lens in the bright sun) that edged the black hindwings and slashed diagonally across the forewings, dividing a black area near the body from the blue apex with its white markings. The delicate antennae resembled tiny beaded wires. Occasionally she closed the wings up over her body, as though she were stretching. She enjoyed her resting spot on my screen for at least ten minutes before taking off in search of a new perch.

But I didn't know her name! I would have known the Monarch or the Tiger Swallowtail, but not this beauty. God bless the Internet! I searched for “Virginia butterflies” and quickly landed on the butterfly page of DiscoverLife.org, a wonderful site that I plan to explore more later. There in the top row was an immediately recognizable picture of my new friend, the Red Admiral butterly, Vanessa atalantas. Here's what I learned:

  • They are usually 2-1/2 to 3 inches in size (smaller than a Monarch which can be as large as 5 inches) and there is very little difference in the markings of males and females (I confess, I just arbitrarily made her a female for this post).
  • The Red Admiral markings, especially the reddish-orange bands across the dorsal forewings, are distinctive and not easily confused with other butterflies.
  • Red Admirals can be found in many habitats, but especially moist environments such as marshes, woods, fields and yards.
  • They are tame and will even land on people; that explains her calm acceptance of my close attention. However, the male can be quite territorial and aggressive.
  • Their flight is quick and a bit jerky, sometimes described as “fidgety.”
  • Red Admirals are found in Europe and North America, and a similar species has been identified in New Zealand.

Here's a view of the Red Admiral's underside as seen from the inside of my screen:

Nature Connection Tip:

The next time you see a butterfly in your yard or flowerbed or nearby park, try to observe the distinctive features or, better yet, get a snapshot with your cell phone or camera, and play butterfly sleuth until you've identified it and learned something about it. If you can't find what you want online, try your county extension office or the nearest university entomology department.

If you just want to begin getting familiar with butterflies in your area, do an online search for “butterflies in your state” and see what you find. I found an Admiral. You might find an Emporer or a Queen!

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