Admiral Butterfly

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

Admiral butterflies are named for their wing patterns, which resemble military insignia!


Admiral Butterfly Scientific Classification


Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Admiral Butterfly Conservation Status

Admiral Butterfly Facts

Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Group
Fun Fact
Admiral butterflies are named for their wing patterns, which resemble military insignia!
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Flashy wing colors and patterns
1.75 to 3.9 inches
Forests, fields, jungles, mountain ranges, orchards, near streams and marshes, urban areas
Monkeys, birds, rats, snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, dragonflies, wasps, ants, flies, spiders
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Nectar, rotting fruit, carcasses, urine, excrement
Special Features
Camouflage, mimicry
Stunningly beautiful wings
Kaleidoscope, flutter, or swarm

Admiral Butterfly Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Orange
  • Purple
  • Multi-colored
  • Black-Brown
Skin Type

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Admiral Butterfly Summary

Admiral butterflies are any of several species within the genera Limenitis and Vanessa. These insects are known for their flashy colors and patterns, some of which resemble the insignia of military officers. They survive mainly on nectar from flowers and the juices of rotting fruits or animal corpses, though they may also feed on urine or dung. Conservationists do not currently consider them endangered, though some species’ population sizes are unknown.

Admiral Butterfly Species, Types, and Scientific Name

The term “admiral butterfly” refers to a number of different species in the genus Limenitis (admirals), which occurs within the subfamily Limenitidinae (admirals and relatives). These species further belong to the family Nymphalidae (brush-footed butterflies) and the order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). As members of the class Insecta, which is the largest class within the phylum Arthropoda, they are true insects.

Limenitidinae divides into four tribes: Limenitidini, Neptini, Parthenini, and Adoliadini. The genus Limenitis occurs within Limenitidini. Scientists dispute the number of species within Limenitis. Within North America, there are between two and six species, though taxonomists most commonly list the following four:

  • Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
  • Red-spotted purple or white admiral (Limenitis arthemis)
  • Lorquin’s admiral (Limenitis lorquini)
  • Weidemeyer’s admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii)

There are more species in addition to these in Eurasia. These include:

  • Eurasian white admiral (Limenitis camilla)
  • Honshu white admiral (Limenitis glorifica)
  • Poplar admiral (Limenitis populi)
  • Southern white admiral (Limenitis reducta)
  • Indian white admiral (Limenitis trivena)

Additionally, certain species within the genus Vanessa (tribe Nymphalini) qualify as red admirals, including the following:

  • Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
  • Indian red admiral (Vanessa indica)

Admiral butterflies derive their name from their wing patterns, which look like the insignia of military officers.

Appearance: How to Identify Admiral Butterflies

Admiral butterflies are agile, quick insects. They are famous for their flashy wing patterns, which typically consist of white bands and colorful markings across a black base. These markings come in a variety of hues, including red, orange, blue, and white. For example, Limenitis arthemis divides into red-spotted purple admirals (Limenitis arthemis arizonensis and Limenitis arthemis astyanax) and white-banded white admirals (Limenitis arthemis arthemis and Limenitis arthemis rubrofasciata). By contrast, Lorquin’s admiral has brownish-black wings with two rows of white spots and orange wingtips. The red admiral has black wings with red bands and white spots.

Like all butterflies, these insects have six jointed legs. As members of the family Nymphalidae, they possess reduced front legs, meaning they only stand and walk on their two rear leg pairs. As insects, their bodies are segmented into three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. A pair of antennae helps them sense their environment via smell and touch. They see using compound eyes on either side of their heads.

Admirals vary in size according to species. For example, the red admiral has a wingspan of between 1.75 and three inches, while that of Lorquin’s admiral ranges from 2.2 to 2.7 inches. Weidemeyer’s admiral measures between 2.25 and 3.75 inches, falling just short of the red-spotted purple or white admiral, which measures between 2.9 and 3.9 inches.

Like most butterflies, admirals tend to be solitary except when mating. A common name for a group of butterflies is a “kaleidoscope.” This name derives from the optical toy. Other names include “swarm” and “flutter.”

red admiral butterfly on flowers

The red admiral is a type of butterfly that has a fairly large wingspan of nearly three inches.

Habitat: Where to Find Admiral Butterflies

Admiral species are common across North and Central America, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They also range across Europe, Asia, and coastal countries in northern Africa. However, the red-spotted purple and white admirals, Lorquin’s admiral, and Weidemeyer’s admiral are all North American species. For example, the red-spotted purple mainly lives in the eastern United States from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast. However, the white admiral lives in more northerly regions, including further up into Canada. Between the four different species, they cover every U.S. state and much of southern Canada.

Admirals inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, jungles, mountain ranges, orchards, near streams and marshes, and within urban areas. Some species, like the red admiral, are migratory, moving south in winter in search of warmer weather. Others take shelter where they are.

Hibernating butterflies occasionally find their way into homes and other buildings in search of shelter. Though they are harmless, some homeowners may wish to relocate them outside. This will prevent the warmth of the house from waking them up prematurely.

Evolution and History

The earliest butterfly fossils formed about 40 million years ago during the mid-Eocene Epoch. Lepidopteran fossils from this period are strikingly similar to extant butterflies, including the fossilized species Prodryas persophone. However, some scientists think butterflies and moths may have begun their evolution as far back as the Cretaceous Period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago) when angiosperms (flowering plants) first showed up in the fossil record.

Butterflies most likely evolved from moths. In fact, some scientists have reclassified certain extant moth species as butterflies, such as those in the Hedylidae family. The two remain closely related, though moths are usually duller and less varied in color and pattern.

Diet: What Does the Admiral Butterfly Eat?

Admiral butterflies are primarily herbivores. They survive by ingesting liquid from various sources. They also have a number of predators.

What Does the Admiral Butterfly Eat?

These insects mainly feed on nectar from flowers and the liquid of rotting fruit. They also suck the sap from oozing trees. Other sources of nutrition include carcasses, urine, and dung. In the caterpillar stage, they feed on trees like birch, poplar, willow, and black cherry.

What Eats Admiral Butterflies?

Butterflies have a wide range of predators. These include larger animals like monkeys, birds, rats, snakes, frogs, toads, and lizards. Smaller predators include dragonflies, wasps, ants, flies, and spiders.

Butterflies avoid predators in two ways: crypsis and mimicry. Crypsis, otherwise known as camouflage, is the art of blending in with one’s environment. Butterflies achieve this mainly with their wings, which they fold up to disguise their bright colors. However, sometimes they use these colors to their advantage through mimicry, which is the art of appearing to be something else. Many brightly-colored butterfly species are toxic. Even those that are harmless may use their flamboyant wings to appear deadly.

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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

Admiral Butterfly FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are admiral butterflies dangerous?

Admiral butterflies are not dangerous to humans.

How many legs do admiral butterflies have?

Admiral butterflies have six jointed legs.

Are admiral butterflies rare?

Admiral butterflies are common across North America and parts of Eurasia.

How do you identify admiral butterflies?

Admiral butterflies have flashy wings, usually black, with white bands or colorful markings. They are typically medium-sized.

Are admiral butterflies endangered?

Currently, the IUCN lists various species of admiral butterflies as being of Least Concern.

What attracts admiral butterflies to a garden?

Like most butterflies, admirals gravitate to the nectar in flowers. So to increase the chances of attracting them, give them access to nectar-rich plants. Alternately, fruit trees may draw butterflies, since they feed on the juices of rotting fruit.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


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