| Jul 30, 2009

Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - July 30, 2009 White Admiralby Steve Blight

One of the more handsome butterflies seen flitting about the shady lanes and back roads in the Land O’ Lakes area is the White Admiral. When seen quickly or from a distance, the overall impression one gets is of a medium-sized black and white butterfly, roughly the size of a Monarch. A closer look reveals more detail. It is mainly deep purplish-black on the upper side of the wings, with a broad white band crossing both the fore and hind wings. There is a row of spots that are mainly blue with often a small amount of red adjacent to the outer margin of the white band on the hind wing. The underside is pale reddish brown with bright brick-red spots along the outer margin and the near the base, and the white bands are repeated on the underside. The size is quite variable, with smaller specimens occurring in the north.

The White Admiral is most often seen along roads and in clearings in forested areas. They like to bask in the sun on leaves or on gravel roads, where they periodically open and close their wings. They are rarely seen on flowers, but can be seen congregating on rotting fruit and animal dung – whatever works!

The butterfly ranges across Canada, north to the tree-line. Curiously, south of our area there is a butterfly called the Red Spotted Purple that looks quite different from the White Admiral, but in fact they belong to the same species. While not a perfect analogy, one could liken this to the two forms of Grey Squirrel that occur in our area – one totally black while the other grey, but both forms belong to the same species (confusingly called the Grey Squirrel) and freely interbreed. Where the two forms of the White Admiral overlap, they too will interbreed forming hybrids.

This is a common butterfly and some years it seems abundant. Its caterpillars generally feed on willow, poplar and birch trees. Young caterpillars are white with greyish-brown areas and resemble bird droppings when they sit on a leaf. The White Admiral overwinters as a young caterpillar in a rolled up leaf secured to a twig by silk. Adults fly from June to August, and sometimes there may be a small number in flight in September from a second generation. From my observation, late June until mid-July is the peak period to see the adults in flight in this area.

In a 1998 poll sponsored by the Montreal Insectarium, the White Admiral was chosen as the unofficial provincial insect of Quebec. However, since the provincial government of Quebec has not taken any action to “officialize” this selection, it remains the unofficial insect. Since it is technically still available, I wonder…does the Land O’ Lakes area needs an official insect emblem?

Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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