Newly-arrived migrant Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui)
Ames, Iowa. Late summer 1995.
Photo by Kenneth C. Shaw.


The migration of the European subspecies of the Red Admiral , Vanessa atalanta atalanta, is well-documented from observations in Great Britain (Baker, 1968; 1969; 1972) and Italy (Benvenuti et al., 1994, 1996). Unanswered questions about Red Admiral migration nevertheless persist. It is not known whether individual Red Admirals migrate all the way from the northern to the southern end of their range, or whether they only fly part of the way. It is also unclear what proportion of the butterflies in different locales hibernate rather than migrate to warmer regions, or whether or not they can successfully overwinter in particular locations.

The Red Admiral ranges widely over both Europe and North America and migrates seasonally (Opler and Krizek 1984, Larsen 1993). There should be little opportunity for smaller, isolated populations to develop under such conditions. Nevertheless, Red Admirals in Italy (Benvenuti et al. 1994, 1996) seem to have a different way of orienting to the sun and maintaining course during the autumn migration than do those of Britain (Baker 1968), which suggests some regional differences between populations.

More Information

Observing Methods

El Niño and Painted Lady Migrations

Other Topics:

Perching and Territorial Behavior

Population Studies

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Literature Cited

Baker, R.R., 1968. Sun orientation during migration in some British butterflies. Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London (A) 43: 89-95.

Baker, R.R. (1972). The geographical origin of the British spring individuals of the butterflies Vanessa atalanta (L.) and Vanessa cardui (L.). Journal of Entomology (A) 46: 185-196.

Baker, R.R. (1978). The Evolutionary Ecology of Animal Migration. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1012 pp.

Benvenuti, S., Dall'Antonia, P, and Ioale, P. (1994). Migration pattern of the red admiral, Vanessa atalanta L. (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae), in Italy. Bollettino di Zoologia 61: 343-351.

Benvenuti, S., Dall'Antonia, P, and Ioale, P. (1996). Directional preferences in the autumn migration of the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Ethology 102: 177-186.

Larsen, T. (1993). Butterfly mass transit. Natural History 102: 30-38.

Opler, P.A. and Krizek, G.O. (1984). Butterflies East of the Great Plains. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

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