There are several butterflies that people often mistake for Monarchs. Among them are two members of the Vanessa genus and they are Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.
Monarchs are on the wing at the dunes at Good Harbor Beach, attracted to the Common Milkweed growing abundantly throughout. For the past several months, we have had an influx of Red Admirals. They aren’t seen in the dunes as much as are the Monarchs; you’ll find them right on the sand at the beach. They are drinking moisture found in the sand, especially at the wrack line, seeking minerals and salt. Red Admirals are commonly referred to as the ‘Friendly Red Admiral’ because they alight on people’s skin, drinking salty human perspiration.
When wings are folded Red Admirals are beautifully disguised against beach and bark textures; when their wings are open they flash bright red-orange bands across their upper and lower wings, which sometimes leads people to believe they are a ‘small’ Monarch.
Monarch Butterfly on native Buttonbush blossoms
David Rhinelander had one two days in a row at his garden on Pine Street, Heather Hall spotted a Monarch at the Hamilton Library, Jennie Meyer had one in her garden and sent along some photos, Donna Soodalter-Toman had one in her yard, Jen in Rockport has them, and Susan Donelan Burke saw a Monarch in Magnolia. This is very early and thank you so much to Everyone for writing!
Keep your eyes peeled for Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, too.
Red Admirals nectaring at lilacs. The last time we had so many Red Admirals in our garden in May was in 2012 and that was a banner year for butterflies of many species.
In the above photo compare the Monarch to the Painted Lady. If you see a “small” Monarch, it may be a Painted Lady or a Red Admiral.
Red Admiral Butterfly with wings folded, resembling tree bark.
Birds are an adult butterfly’s number one enemy and over millennia, butterflies have evolved with many different strategies to avoid being eaten.
Monarch Butterfly and Tropical Milkweed
Some butterflies, like Monarchs, taste terrible, because the caterpillar’s food plant milkweed has toxic and foul tasting substances. The Monarch caterpillar has evolved to withstand the poisonous milky sap, but a bird that attempts to eat the caterpillar may become ill, and even die. The vivid black, yellow, and white stripes of the caterpillar, along with the brilliant orange and black wing pattern of the adult butterfly, are forms of aposematic coloring. Their bright colors warn of danger to would be predators.
Great Spangled Fritillary with iridescent spots.
The wings of other butterflies, like the Great Spangled Fritillary and Blue Morpho, are patterned with iridescent scales. The iridescence creates little flashes of light when in flight, which confuses predatory birds.
The friendly Red Admiral employs the strategy of mimicry for protection from birds. When its wings are folded, the butterfly is perfectly camouflaged against the bark of a tree trunk. And if that isn’t protection enough, the outer margins of the wings resemble splodges of bird poop!
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Have you ever had a butterfly land on your arm? It was probably a Red Admiral. The word friendly is often used to describe these beautiful butterflies but, it isn’t really friendship they are wanting. Red Admirals are attracted to the salt in your perspiration and will alight to have a sip of sweat.
Red Admiral Basking at Niles Pond
So named Friendly because he’ll alight on your arm or head, attracted to the minerals in perspiration. This Red Admiral was found warming its wings in the early morning sun at Niles Pond. Butterflies wings do not work very well in cool, rainy temperatures. I hope the upcoming heat wave brings a batch of butterflies!
In response to Marty’s question ~
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) ~ Note the two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, close to the outer margin.
Marty your photo is that of the Painted Lady. Typically in our region we would most often see the American Lady however, this is an irruptive year for the Painted Lady. There has been a population explosion of Painted Ladies reported throughout New England and beyond, which is especially unusual and interesting because this past spring (2012) was also an irruptive year for the closely related Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).
The easiest way to tell the difference: Painted Ladies have four large spots on the underside of their hindwings, close to the outer margins, which you can easily see in your lovely photo. American Ladies have two “eyespots” on each hindwing, and the spots are considerably larger.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) ~ Note the four large spots on the hindwing.
I am calling the summer of 2012 the “summer of ten thousand butterflies.” Just incredible! I would have answered this is in the comment section, but I don’t know if it is possible to add a photo and will post more in a future post about the two species but am in the middle of making dinner. Did you take this shot with your new camera?