Butterflies of Chicago: The Red Admiral

Hello North Branch Natives Community!

My name is Nicki and I am the most recent addition to the North Branch team. I am a horticulturist by training, having earned a degree in horticulture from Purdue University in 2021. My focus has been in public horticulture and I’ve worked in a wide range of spaces including botanic gardens, arboretums, municipal landscapes, and residential properties. Throughout my career I’ve developed a passion for native plants and see them as an integral part of protecting our natural systems and connecting people to the natural world around us. I’m so excited to join North Branch and help teach people how to bring native plants to their own spaces and share my passion! As part of my work here I will also be authoring some of our blog posts and wanted to take this opportunity to say hello; I hope you enjoy!

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Pictured: An adult Red Admiral spotted in Humboldt Park

You may have seen these striking butterflies flitting about the city in recent weeks. Identified by bright red bands on their fore and hind wings, the aptly named Red Admiral is easy to spot. They arrive in the Chicago area around late March as adult butterflies having returned from living in southern climates over the winter. Once here, they lay eggs on a host plant that develop and hatch into caterpillars. After hatching, the caterpillars then feed on the foliage of their host plant, pupate, and then emerge as adults to continue the life cycle. 

The Red Admiral’s host plants include those in the Nettle Family. This even includes Stinging Nettle, the weedy plant growing in woods, old lots, and fields. Although Stinging Nettle is unpleasant to humans, Red Admirals rely on it to lay their eggs (which even have small hairs to mimic those on Stinging Nettle leaves) and its ability to thrive in urban environments ensures the Red Admiral supportive habitat. Make sure to keep an eye out for our native Red Admiral butterfly visiting your gardens this spring and summer, and plant plenty native wildflowers to feed them on their along the way.

What is a host plant?

Having an ample, recognizable food source is key for caterpillars, who need to eat enough in order to pupate and metamorphosize into adult butterflies. Different species of butterfly caterpillars have evolved to consume a selective range of plants, called host plants. Host plants vary between butterflies and can include herbaceous plants, shrubs, trees or vines. 

Interested in learning about host plants of other butterflies?


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