Vanessa atalanta – Red Admiral Butterfly
The colors and camouflage are spectacular on this beautiful October 1st specimen. The flowers are Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) – one of the most prolific bloom and nectar producing plants I’ve ever grown. They get huge – 8 to 10 feet tall, and bloom from midsummer into autumn. Deadhead religiously and you’ll be pleased with abundant new flowers every day for 8 to 10 weeks! Hummingbirds, butterflies, bumble and all sorts of bees flock to these flowers, and fight over the choicest blooms – it’s a real suck-fest!
These fast-moving butterflies gave me a run for my money for many years, when I used to chase them around in the wild. Now I have flower gardens, and discovered this newly-minted admiral filling up on nectar before heading south. Yes, admirals migrate just like monarchs do. They live year-round in Mexico and Central America. Caterpillars feed on plants in the families Salicaceae (willow, poplar and aspen), Urticaceae (nettles), and Asteraceae – a cosmopolitan family of plants that include sunflowers, asters and daisies.
Zinnias, which are really just fancy sunflowers, are my go-to flower for large beds that require little maintenance save mulching and deadheading. I had 16 species of butterfly in my gardens this year, and zinnias, in my humble opinion, have the most throw-weight when it comes to attracting pollinators.
April, 2012 – Red admirals migrated north in enormous numbers, due to the warmest March on record here in the American Midwest. At Castle Rock State Park near Oregon, Illinois, I could kick up hundreds of them in just a few dozen yards of walking. It reminded me of the painted lady population explosion we had in 2005, but the ladies weren’t nearly as numerous.
Order Lepidoptera, which contains both butterflies and moths, includes at least 125,000 known species including 12,000 in North America. Butterflies are revered for their brightly colored wings and pleasing association with fair weather and flowers.
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