Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Red Admiral at a sap flow...

A striking Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly joined the ash tree sap flow gang last week, but he was not having an easy time of it. Three large ants kept creeping in and trying to climb up his proboscis or his legs, but worse was a pesky little wasp that kept attacking him by rattling around in his wings. The butterfly did not seem to mind the ants, but he definitely did not like the wasp touching him and would become agitated and shake him away...

A Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly shares a bit of sap from  a sap flow in our ash tree with an ant.
A Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly shares a sap flow on our ash tree with an ant. 

Just like Monarch butterflies, who are visitors to our area and undergo seasonal migration, so too do Red Admirals. We normally get to see Red Admirals on the wing from late April through early October. This year, though, they arrived a little earlier. I saw a few in late March, and I've seen much higher numbers of them all season. It's been a stellar year for the Red Admirals! I didn't know much about Red Admiral migration, so I checked my books but didn't find much. After a quick internet search, I found admirals do not overwinter here because they cannot survive cold winters. Some individuals from the fall generation migrate south to winter in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and other southern states, but not all, and research is still needed on why some stay. Mostly North America is recolonized each spring by butterflies coming up from the south (click here and here). It always amazes me that creatures seemingly so fragile can undertake these massive migrations and survive.

The profile of a Red Admiral butterfly with a great view of his proboscis while feeding at a tree sap flow..
The profile of a Red Admiral butterfly with an extended proboscis. 

Red Admiral butterfly with curled proboscis prepares for attack from a bee while protecting its sap flow.
"Pesky wasp...surely, the devil with wings," seemed to be the thoughts of this Red Admiral butterfly. Here the butterfly and the ant were watching the wasp carefully. When it would come around, the butterfly would curl up his proboscis and prepare for the attack. It was interesting to watch.

Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) feeding at a tree sap flow.
...peace and quiet again. When the wasp would give up and fly away, the butterfly would go back to feeding on the tree sap. 

Dorsal view of Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly; beautiful orange-red stripes and white bars on a dark brown background
...eventually the Admiral had enough and flew off to another branch to find an unoccupied sap flow. The dorsal view of this butterfly is gorgeous. Bright orange-red stripes and white bars stand out easily against the dark brown-black background. 

p.s.
No wonder I saw so many Red Admirals this season. It was an irruption year. The butterflies did very well overwintering in the south, and the extra mild spring helped usher them in during their northward migration. For more accounts, click here for a post titled, "Red Admiral Invasion," by Jim McCormac from Ohio Birds and Biodiversity, and here for an article titled, "Naboko's Favorite Butterfly Invades NYC (and Other Places)," from the Gothamist.

16 comments:

Hilke Breder said...

Beautiful shots, Kelly! Love the butterfly macros!! You make me think I need to invest in macro lens.

TexWisGirl said...

really beautiful. interesting about the interaction of bee and butterfly.

Kelly said...

Hilke...I didn't use a macro lens for these. I used my Nikon D7000 Camera with a Nikon AF-S VR-Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8G lens and a Nikon 2x teleconverter. I then cropped the images down in Aperture. They just look like macro images.

Tex...it was intriguing. I'd never seen it before.

Kerri said...

Fabulous captures!!

I've seen more of these AND the Painted Ladies than ever before. I've loved it!!! but haven't seen as many Swallowtails or Monarchs :(

Janice K said...

In the picture with it's wings closed, from a distance it would completely blend into the tree bark. I guess I don't usually think about different insects bothering each other--obviously they do.

Thanks, Kelly.

Roy said...

Lovely images. They are a special species Kelly and worth taking a photograph every time

Lois Evensen said...

Beautiful images and so much to learn. Thank you for sharing.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Another great post, since your last post I have seen Mourning Cloaks everywhere now I will keep my eyes open for Red Admirals.

All the best.
Guy

Sublime Birdy said...

Wow! I always wondered what type of butterfly that was. Great shots!

Bill S. said...

Great pictures and story about the bee, ant and butterfly.

Elaine said...

Lovely series! Interesting that the bee annoyed the butterfly. Well, I am very cautious around bees too.

Gillian Olson said...

Beautiful captures of the butterfly, thank you.

holdingmoments said...

A butterfly we get here Kelly; and a real beauty too.

They've been very late appearing over here because of the very wet weather we've had.

Banjo52 said...

Again your use of focus! Both cool and instructive.

Jerry said...

Absolutely stunning details Kelly!

Kelly said...

...thank you, everyone! You are always so kind!! The butterflies keep hanging around the sap flows. I think I've seen more butterflies this season in our ash tree than any other year!