(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)
If you've seen a black and orange butterfly gliding by lately, it's probably a red admiral.
These butterflies are common in our area in early spring, but this year they seem to be here in even great numbers than usual, said Kelli Parke, an interpretive naturalist at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center.
Red admirals are easy to spot because they are mostly black with bright, reddish-orange markings on both sets of wings and white spots near the front of their upper wings, according to the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department.
These butterflies are native to North America and are found throughout the continent. In southern areas with warmer climates, such as Guatemala, Mexico and even the southern United States, red admirals are year-round residents. In more northern regions, including here in Will County, they migrate south or either hibernate for winter or overwinter as chrysalises, the pupa stage of the butterfly life cycle, according to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
The first ones we see here in the spring are butterflies that overwintered as adults, Parke said. Red admirals are often seen locally in early spring, before flowers are well-established and abundant. These butterflies, though, don't rely on flowers as a food source. Instead, they eat rotting fruit, tree sap and even bird and other animal droppings.
"That's how they are able to survive," Parke said, adding they will also feast on flowers when they are available.
These butterflies are commonly seen in urban and suburban areas as well as more natural habitats. They prefer damp environments, including marshes and wooded areas, according to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web.
Red admirals aren't the only admiral butterflies. Both the white admiral and the red-spotted purple admiral are also found throughout North America, according to Butterflies and Moths of North America. Blue admirals, on the other hand, are native to Asia.
In addition to the red admirals, mourning cloaks — a butterfly with dark brown wings and lighter-colored edges — are often seen in early spring, Parke said. Other butterflies we also start to see around this time include black swallowtails, painted ladies and cabbage whites, according to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
The most anticipated butterfly — the monarch — is still probably at least a few weeks away from being regularly spotted around Will County. Monarchs typically arrive in our area in late May or early June each year. You can chart their progress thanks to a map from Journey North.