Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Everybody likes an old butterfly
A red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) came to visit the lantana the other day during one of the few sunny spells we've had lately. I've glimpsed or thought I've seen this species in the yard from time to time before but this is the first time one was low enough and held still long enough while I had a camera in hand. This individual's wings look quite worn, and there are chunks removed (probably by birds) from both right wings. It stayed awhile, perching and feeding on the lantana flowers.
The primary larval food plant for V. atalanta is stinging nettle, Urtica holosericea, not commonly found in suburban gardens for obvious reasons. Genus pilea, in the nettle family, includes creeping charlie, artillery plant, aluminum plant, etc; many plants sold at what we older folk used to call dime stores. Possibly the red admiral is able to use some of these easily grown nettle relatives as larval food plants. Baby tears, another ubiquitous member of Urticaceae, has been observed (by Hogue) to be used as a larval food plant. Or many the odd Red Admiral simply drifts into our tamed little corner of the world following the scent of lantana nectar from wherever that patch of nettle is where they breed.