The red admiral butterfly

David Chapman

September is a great time to spot the beautiful red admiral butterfly, wildlife writer and photographer David Chapman explains why

The red admiral is one of the most striking of all British butterflies and, though it isn’t immediately obvious, its beauty is reflected in its name; the name 'red admiral' being a corruption of the original 18th-century name 'red admirable'. The combination of its black velvety wings, contrasting with stunning orange lines and white spots makes it one of our most easily identified species.

To call red admirals British is probably a slight misinterpretation since most individuals will have come from the continent. This is a strong migrant species which, every year, returns to us from the Mediterranean region.

The first to reach us arrive in March and they seek out nettles on which to lay eggs. During the summer the eggs hatch and the caterpillars develop so that by August we should have our own crop of adult red admirals.

Their numbers are continually boosted by further migrants from across the English Channel so that by September they are at their most numerous and can be found across the entire length and breadth of the British Isles.

It is also during September that they are most frequently seen in gardens because this is where most nectar can be found at this time of year. Outside of gardens they can often be found drinking nectar from the flowers of ivy, one of the latest abundant flowering species in the countryside. They also like to find rotting fruit so try putting out a tray of rotten apples or blackberries in a sheltered sunny spot in your garden if you would like to give them a treat.

Though some individuals attempt to hibernate in Britain, generally our winters are too harsh for red admirals so they must migrate southwards if they are to survive.

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