Sunday, March 18, 2012

Red Admirals

Last summer, Marlene and I purchased 7 acres of Texas Hill Country above Lake Georgetown, where we plan to eventually build a house and live. The property is forested, with a dense cover of ash juniper, live oak, and shin oak. At least once a week, we walk the property with our Labrador retriever Molly, often hiking the short distance down to the lake, where Molly goes for a swim and Marlene looks at fossils on the beach.

This afternoon, gray clouds filled the sky and rain threatened, but Molly was restless and so she and I jumped in the truck and went for our weekly visit to the property. As we wandered through the woods, we were surrounded by Red Admirals, one of my favorite butterflies. The Red Admiral (Vanessa atlanta) is a beautifully marked butterfly that is unlikely to be confused with any other species. Its wings are velvety black, with brilliant slashes of red-orange on both forewings and hindwings. The front of its forewings are marked with series of distinctive bright white spots.

As we walked among the junipers, dozens of Red Admirals glided around us like miniature sail planes, cruising in and around the trees. I often see these butterflies in juniper forests among the San Gabriel River, although they are found all across North America and frequent many different habitats. Today, they were literally everywhere, in the dense forest, in open spots near the fence line, and along the more open trail to the lake. I even spotted several on the shore of the lake.

Red Admirals are one of the first butterflies to appear in the spring and they fly until early autumn. Their caterpillars feed on several types of nettles. Males are often territorial, defending their resting places from other butterflies and even larger organisms, including humans.