|Back to Home||Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes - April 26, 2012|
Red Admirals and Painted LadiesBy Lorraine Julien
What happened to spring? Colourful butterflies were flitting around Frontenac County and probably the rest of southern Ontario the last couple of weeks but they must be shivering this past chilly weekend. In general, though, the early spring, of course, means an early start to the mosquito/blackfly season.
Photo: Red Admiral, Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Bugwood.org
You’ve probably noticed around your property or heard on the news of the influx of colourful red and black butterflies recently. Chances are that the butterfly is the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), a well-known butterfly with red, black and brown wing patterns and small white dots at the tips of the wings. It looks similar to a Monarch except the colours are in reverse and it is about half the size of the Monarch with a wingspan up to 2” (50 mm) across.
If you look close enough, you can see that this butterfly has a thick body, strong looking flight muscles and strong, angular wings for rapid, super-controlled flight. Some of the recent arrivals may look pale and worn from their long journey but when the summer generation emerges, the colours will be intense and the body will be clothed in thick, brown hairs.
Eggs are laid on the nettle plant which is used for food for the young caterpillars when they emerge. Adults feed mainly on thistles and over-ripe fruit.
Both the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady are migratory butterflies that are common some years and rare in others. There appear to be several reasons for the current large butterfly migration:
The recent strong winds may have been beneficial to the butterflies. They migrate from a long distance perhaps as far as Mexico and the southern U.S. With strong winds pushing them northward, they just ride the air currents during the daylight hours.
Temperature levels also determine how active the butterflies are going to be. Usually large numbers appear in May unless there is a warm, early spring such as we are experiencing this year.
Photo: Painted Lady: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International, Bugwood.org
The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is a close cousin of the Red Admiral and is one of our most common and widespread butterflies. The Painted Lady occurs in any temperate zone but is resident only in warmer areas, migrating northward in spring and sometimes southward in fall.
The Lady is a pretty orange, black and white butterfly, very swift and also loves thistles. During some years, you may not see many of these butterflies as their populations build up in the southern states over the course of a decade. Then suddenly, it seems, they swarm into Canada by the kazillions. No thistle is safe from the egg-laying females and a northern generation grows up over the summer. These butterflies don’t seem to realize, though, that they must return south once fall arrives. When winter comes, they all die and we have to wait another 10 years or so to see them. Once the population rebounds in the south, and the invasion begins, it could last for two or three years. There are, of course, some Painted Ladies that visit here every year, just not in huge numbers.
Update on Beaver Island: We found where the beaver family lives – right under one side of the island! Once the snow and ice disappeared, we could see that they had expanded a large opening under some uplifted tree roots. It looks like a little cave. We hope to set up a motion sensor camera to get pictures of them and then we hope they’ll decide to move on!
Notice from the Kingston Field Naturalists: Please note that the Kingston Field Naturalists will hold their 14th Annual Bio Blitz to count, identify and record as many plant and animal species as possible over a 24-hour period. This event is open to the public. It will take place on Amherst Island from Friday, June 15 at 3 p.m. until Saturday, June 16 at 3 p.m. For more information go to www.kingstonfieldnaturalists.org or contact Anne Robertson, Co-ordinator, Kingston Field Naturalists, tel. 613-389-6742 or email firstname.lastname@example.org