I am no expert photographer, preferring to capture the moment than get a perfectly composed shot. The pictures on my blog are either taken with a compact Canon, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 or on my phone.




Friday, 22 January 2021

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

Last June on a lovely sunny day I noticed a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, flying around our hen run, landing on some young nettlesUrtica dioica, that I had previously cut down. Once it had gone I had a look at one particular nettle plant that it had been showing a great interest in and found an egg. Thinking that it wouldn’t have a chance of survival I picked the nettle and put it in some water in the house.



The egg was laid on the 25th June and four days later I noticed that it had hatched. The caterpillar was a clear green colour with a black head and it remained in the smallest leaves at the top of the nettle, where it weaved a small silk shelter.


On 1st July I noticed that the caterpillar had changed into the second instar and was now dark with small spines. It was now about 4mm long.


After that it was very difficult to see the caterpillar as it made itself a beautiful tent by nibbling through the nettle stem causing the top to flop over. It then wove the serrated edges of a leaf together to create a little chamber to live inside. It clearly ventured out at night and ate other leaves and on occasion would build itself a new tent.


On 23rd July I noticed that it had woven itself a little silk pad and had started to hang from it in a J-shape in preparation for forming a chrysalis.


On 25th July it had shed its skin and was now a chrysalis.


It remained like that until I noticed the colour of its wings became apparent through the chrysalis. It remained like this for a couple of days and then, despite it being in my study on the 10th August it emerged into a beautiful butterfly while I wasn’t looking!




It was fantastic watching it go through the whole process from egg to adult butterfly. It was particularly thrilling watching it fly off once its wings had fully expanded and dried out. There were a lot of Red Admirals on our Buddleias later in the year and it would be nice to think that they were descended from this particular butterfly.


Back in June on the same day that I saw the Red Admiral laying and egg I also spotted a Painted Lady laying an egg on some Woodland Groundsel , Senecio sylvaticus. It was similar to the Red Admiral egg, but had more ribs. Sadly we had really heavy rain the following day and the egg was washed away. It would have been great to have reared it alongside the Red Admiral.

8 comments:

  1. Hello Nick,:=) Wonderful post, so interesting all the way through. I must pay more attention to where the butterflies land, and try to spot the eggs. Now that I know what the eggs look like, I'll be on the lookout, and a broken bent over stalk will perhaps be a clue to where they might be hiding. Thanks for all the info, and the beautiful Red Admiral photo.
    Have a nice weekend.

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    1. Hi Sonjia, Red Admirals eggs are surprisingly easy to see as they are laid on the top of the leaves. They choose young plants that have grown up after being cut earlier in the year. Also, although the caterpillars cleverly hide in the shelters they make, the shelters are quite easy to spot making them one of the easiest caterpillars to find.

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  2. Hi Nick. I absolutely love your blog. Your photos of the process make it so interesting, as well as your text. Here in Spain we get millions of Red Admirals in December, and I still have to see whether they lay their eggs on nettles here, Urtica pilulifera, or they just come for the winter without breeding. I'll do some research about it.
    Congratulations for witnessing this fantastic species turn into an adult.

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    1. Thank you Guillermo. It would be really interesting to learn about the rest of the life cycle of the Red Admiral. We usually have a large arrival of Red Admirals in July from the continent. The next generation spends a long time feeding up and then flies south about October. I would love to know where they end up and if they survive the winter with you, or go on to breed. Please let me know what you find out.

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  3. Such an exciting thing to witness, learn from and enjoy.
    How wonderful that it was successful and you got to send it off into the world. Bravo!
    Last year I harvested wild nettles, made delicious pesto with it and dried the rest for a super nutritional tea. I hope I didn't eat any butterfly eggs.

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    1. Tammie Lee,
      It was great seeing it through from the day the egg was laid until the butterfly flew off. I hope I will be able to do this a lot more in the future. It is always worth having a look at any leaves you harvest. You don't know what there may be on there!!

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  4. Great photographic record Nick. Always amazed the speed some butterflies can morph from egg to imago.

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    1. Thanks Brian,
      I think this one went through the stages a bit quicker than normal because it was indoors. I normally keep caterpillars in a cage outside to try to keep conditions as natural as possible. I follow various tropical butterfly groups and it is unbelievable how quickly they develop in the heat!

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