Red Admiral Challenging 'Gender Norms'

May 12, 2016

Think back to the first time you spotted a Red Admiral butterfly. You probably admired it and said something like "Ooh, look at that!"

That may be how its name originated; someone corrupted "admirable" to "admiral."

And mistook "orange" for "red."

The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is not red: it's orange and black graced with orange bands and white spots. The undersides of the hindwings are not so colorful, with its brown-and-black camouflaged patterns.

Nevertheless, it's a gorgeous butterfly. It's found throughout North America from northern Canada to Central America, as well as throughout Europe, northern Africa and Eurasia. It's also located in Hawaii, New Zealand and some of the Caribbean Islands.

Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the butterfly populations in Central California for more than four decades, says on his website that it's "one of the most frequently seen butterflies in midwinter at low elevation" and it's "often very common in the urban Bay Area," not to mention occurring  "all around the Northern Hemisphere." 

The colorful butterfly lays its eggs on nettles (family Urticaceae), including the stinging nettles, wood nettle and false nettle. Caterpillars feed on the nettles, while the adults sip nectar from such plants as Buddleia and Jupiter's Beard. They also feed on overripe fruit.

The Red Admiral sports a girl's name, Vanessa, for its genus, and Atalanta for its species. In Greek mythology, Atalanta is a strong woman who, according to Wikipedia, "faces obstacles and backlash for refusing to follow gender norms."

Gender norms? What's that? :)

Anyway, was the Vanessa atalanta that fluttered into our yard on May 9 facing some "gender norm" challenges when it nectared on Jupiter's Beard?