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Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

Salute the Admirals

Admiral butterflies of one sort or another inhabit parts of every U.S. state and Canadian province. They're large, showy, and best seen during the summer months. Here's a brief introduction to the North American species, both what they look like and where you'll find them.

The Lorquin's Admiral is a West Coast butterfly unique among the admirals for its cream-colored (not white) wing stripes and the orange tips to its forewings. Look for it in a variety of habitats, from shorelines to parks to forest edges. It spends the most time, though, near its caterpillar food plants poplars, willows, and Chokecherry.

In California and the southern parts of its range, the Lorquin's Admiral has two distinct broods and flies from April through September. Further north, it's single-brooded and on the wing from June to early fall.

The Rocky Mountains and their foothills and nearby lowlands are the territory of the black-and-white Weidemeyer's Admiral. Watch for it along rivers and streams. Like other admirals, its flight pattern is distinctive: a few strong flaps alternating with a glide on outstretched wings.

Weidemeyer's Admirals lay their eggs on willows, aspens, and cottonwoods, all common trees along western watercourses. June through August is the flight period for this species, which has one brood throughout its range.

Whether referred to by aliases like the Red-spotted Admiral, the Red-spotted Purple, or the Banded Purple, the White Admiral is a single butterfly species with two very different and distinct color forms. In both forms, though, the butterfly is dark with a bright purplish blue sheen on the upper surface of the wings. The unbanded form (the so-called Red-spotted Purple) is common in southeastern North America, while the form with bold white wing stripes (the White Admiral) is the common admiral in the North and the Northwest.

The Southern versions occur wherever willows, aspens, and poplars grow and generally can be found flying from May to September. June through August is the flight season for most of the northern, banded admirals, which prefer woodlands and lay their eggs on birches as well as willows and poplars.

The only admiral not named as such is the Viceroy, a wide-ranging butterfly with territory that extends from the Northwest Territories across to Newfoundland and south through the continent. Viceroys are roughly the same size and shape as other admirals, and they behave the same way. The big difference with the Viceroy is its coloration orange with black veins, almost exactly like the Monarch. Depending on latitude, Viceroys have one to four broods during the year, flying in summer in the North and spring to fall in the South.

Finally, the handsome Red Admiral butterfly occurs not only all over North America but also in Europe and North Africa. In addition, it's been introduced into Hawaii, New Zealand, the Azores, and other island groups.

Closely related to Painted Ladies and American Ladies, Red Admirals feed on nettles and hops as caterpillars far different from the standard willows and poplars favored by other admirals. Another characteristic that distinguishes Red Admirals from their kin is that they migrate in northern regions in any life stage rather than overwinter. Each spring, the adults travel northward from their southerly overwintering areas and spread out across the continent. The intensity of the migration varies greatly from year to year. Sometimes Red Admirals can be seen everywhere, and sometimes they're scarce. In fall, Red Admirals may sometimes be spotted migrating southward to coastal locations.