Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Adults. Wingspan 58–78 mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; very short-bodied. The eyes hairy. Antennae reaching about halfway to the wingtips. The antennal clubs abrupt; flattened (blunt, pale-tipped). Labial palps ascending. Having only 4 fully developed legs (forelegs with two tarsal joints and brushlike in males, those of females having 4 tarsal joints with short setae). Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically somwhat pointed. The outer and hind margins angled at about 95–100 degrees. The outer margins concavely curved and angulated; scalloped. Uppersides of the forewings black (brownish tinged anteriorly); without a discal mark; with a showy red fascia from before the mid-costa to near the tornus where it encloses a small double blue spot, and a white blotch and several white spots near the apex.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; not tailed; with the outer margins scalloped. Uppersides of the hindwings dark brown, or blackish; conspicuously patterned; without a discal mark; brownish black, with a red terminal fascia containing a series of black dots, and a blue-ish tornal mark.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings colour-patterned similarly but rather more complexly than the uppersides, the red fascia being paler orange to yellowish, the black component shading apically into greys, and with addition of small red markings basally and blue-ish ones both basally and subcostally; eye-spotted. The eye-spots 2 (these small, dark-ringed circles enclosing blue, buff and white); posterior towards the apex (subterminal).

Undersides of the hindwings complexly marbled brownish and blueish grey with irregular black markings, paler at mid-termen and with a conspicuous pale, irregular blotch at mid-costa.

Wing venation. Forewings 13 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 2 tubular anal veins (the upper rather reduced); the anal veins of the forewings comprising 1b and 1c; vein 1b furcate proximally to simple (?). Forewings rather ambiguously with a discal cell (the transverse vein weaker between veins 4 and 5). Forewing veins 8 and 9 out of 7, the rest separate.

Hindwings 9 veined; with a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein complete (but thin between veins 4 and 5). 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined (connate).

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs barrel-shaped to broadly conical (shortly cylindric, slightly narrowing above, with a small apical concavity); longitudinally ribbed (with about 9 ribs). The larvae hairy (?); with rows of bristly spines; concealed feeders (each concealing itself within a spun and folded leaf). On Urticaceae - Urtica and Parietaria.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned; with shining-metallic markings (ornamented with gold along the centre of the back, and on the thorax and head); exposed, with no coccoon; suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle.

British representation. 1 species. Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral). The adults abroad May to October, or September to April; hibernating (but hardly ever successfully).

Status in Britain. Common occurrence in Britain entirely reflecting regular immigration.

Distribution. Northern Scotland, southern Scotland, northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. A strong flier, sometimes gliding.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Nymphalidae.

Illustrations. • Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral): photos. • Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral: Giles Watson, photos). • Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral): egg, larva, pupa. • Larvae and pupae of V. atalanta and Cynthia cardui: Duponchel (1849). • Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral: Shaw & Nodder).

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.