We spotted a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) flying around our backyard.
It's always nice to see a butterfly that you haven't seen in awhile. Of the three Vanessa species in Albany, atalanta tends to be most common in midsummer while the painted lady (V. cardui) comes in spring and west coast lady (V. annabella) comes in fall and winter. Atalanta doesn't seem to be too common here in the city as there are no hosts accept exotic pellitory (Parietaria), but the little weed is only found spottily and often removed by the city. We saw many eggs on them earlier in the summer (see Red Admiral Eggs on Pellitory), but they've since then disappeared and most of the pellitory has been removed anyway. We never collected any then because our time here in Albany is short and supplying them with enough pellitory would be difficult. Maybe one day we'll rear up some of these nice little butterflies again, but our chance for this year has past.
Completely by accident, we found some pellitory (Parietaria) plants clobbered in red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at Albany Hill (Albany, California).
For the longest time, we have seen red admirals (Vanessa atalanta) flying at Albany Hill, or even in the city, during the summertime. Last year we discovered just a smidge of stinging nettle (Urtica) growing inside the path of Albany Hill, but never found any of their eggs. Obviously, these plants weren't enough to support an actual population. In fact, Albany Hill data from 1995-1999 concluded that Vanessa atalanta were most likely vagrant since no Urtica was recorded at the site during that time. The authors suspected urban pellitory (Parietaria) or baby's tears (Helxine or Soleirolia) as the more probable host plants.
Today we happened to stumble across a plant growing along the fence outside of Albany Hill that was getting a lot of attention from a red admiral. We almost jumped when we saw that the tiny plant was utterly suffocated in fresh eggs. The plant, as it turned out, was in fact some variety of pellitory which belongs in the same family as the nettles. We found more of the stuff growing along the same fence, all covered in eggs or even first instar larvae. It was quite clear that the red admiral population was getting quite desperate and that they were basically dependent on these small plants, almost all of which looked so young that they could have only grown in this year.
Interestingly, we also found a single west coast lady (Vanessa annabella) egg today on mallow (Malva), another exotic weed. Whereas the atalanta eggs seem to have about 8-12 ribs, the annabella have at least two to three times that.
Today we realized we have a fifth instar Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) caterpillar mixed in with out fifth instar West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella)!
Yesterday, while we were cleaning out the petri dishes that we our West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella) caterpillars in, we took note of which ones were in apolysis as always and took care not to disturb them. We had quite a few -- maybe five or so -- fourth instar individuals in apolysis for fith instar. We noticed then, that one of them seemed much larger than the others, larger than perhaps a young fifth instar. At the time, it never once crossed our mind that it might be a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) caterpillar, which are normally significantly larger than V. annabella but today we found out!
The fourth instar in apolysis looks more or less identical to the V. annabella fourth instars, so it was no wonder that we didn't realize earlier. Even among different V. annabella caterpillars before the fifth instar, there is very little variation (there is incredible diversity in coloration in the fifth instar， though); every single caterpillar we had looked pretty much identical. We don't know exactly when the V. cardui caterpillar molted, but it must have been a while since we checked this evening because we almost jumped back when we opened our petri dish and saw a monstrous caterpillar towering over even the largest of mature V. annabella fifth instars. Besides the ungodly size, its appearance was now distinctly different than any V. annabella caterpillar. Its body much longer and less fat compared to V. annabella, more like a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). In addition, its coloration actually is very similar to that of a typical black morph V. atalanta that we have never witnessed in any V. annabella; the base is completely black with not red or yellow striped down the back seen in all of our V. annabella, the spiracles are outlined in yellow, and the feet are reddish. At the same time, it also doesn't look quite the same as V. atalanta. See images below.
The strange part about finding this V. cardui caterpillar is that mallow (Malva) is not a particularly popular host plant. While V. cardui is probably one of the only butterflies in our area that are truly polyphagous, capable of feeding on low plants from a huge number of unrelated botanical families, it still seems unlikely that they would utilize mallow unless there is a population spike and food sources are in high demand, but V. cardui is certainly is not very common in our particular region at this particular time. A regional preferences for host plants is plausible but unlikely -- why would they compete with the abundant V. annabella which exclusively feeds on mallow? If anything, we would assume that V. cardui would more commonly utilize the milk thistles growing here but to this date we have never found one on this particular host plant in Albany.
The sixth installment of rearing notes for Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) that we collected at Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley, CA) from 9/5-9/14.
Rearing Notes 9/5-9/14:
The fifth installment of rearing notes for Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) that we collected at Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley, CA) from 8/28-9/4.
Rearing Notes and Stats 8/28/16-9/4/16:
Encounters this year:
The fourth installment of rearing notes for Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) that we collected at Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley, CA) from 8/20-8/27.
Rearing Notes and Stats 8/20/16-8/27/16:
Encounters this year:
The third installment of our rearing notes for Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) that we collected at Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley, CA) from 8/12-8/19, as well as a few Satyr Comma caterpillars (Polygonia satyrus) mixed in with the batch.
8/18: Nothing significant worth noting.
Encounters this year:
Today we found a bunch of West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella) eggs now as they are starting to come into season.
Near the end of July, we made a post about all of the new species starting to trickle in as the season becomes ripe for them. One of them was our most common lady, the West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella). We have frequently observed this species as being most abundant during the winter, but start coming in just about now, when fall is near.
Today, we found for this first time this summer, a few scattered wild mallow (Malva) plants growing on the grass that were covered in West Coast Lady eggs. Like the Anise Swallowtail's (Papilio zelicaon) beloved sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), this mallow is an introduced weed that colonizes with ease. Almost every unattended grassy area has some. But despite looking for eggs for months, we have not been able to find any until today.
We counted a total of fourteen eggs, all collected from three tiny (probably regenerating) mallow plants outside a dog park. We also found a hatched egg with a newborn right next to it as well as a single third instar.
When we took these home, we were curious to compare them to the very closely related Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) that we are currently rearing a number of right now. The two species are even known to possibly hybridize in areas that they overlap, such as where we live. The West Coast Lady is the smallest of all our Vanessas. and when we compared an egg to a Red Admiral egg that we found today the size difference was quite evident. The Red Admiral eggs seem to be more translucent and a richer green, with the little ribs more clearly defined since they are larger; the West Coast Lady eggs are sort of just a murky milky green. The size difference in the caterpillars was significant too. The third instar we found was much smaller than the third instar Red Admiral in every aspect.
A main distinction between the West Coast Lady and Red Admiral caterpillars besides size is that the former always (or, at least, all of those that we have seen) bear yellow stripes running along the side. These stripes are present in Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) as well, but not found in the Red Admirals. On top of that, the West Coast Lady caterpillars tend to vary less in color and are most often completely black except for the stripes; the Red Admiral black forms usually have colored spiracles and feet.
A side-by-side comparison between to two nettle-eating nymphalids, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and the Satyr Comma (Polygonia satyrus).
Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) and Satyr Commas (Polygonia satyrus) are relatively closely related and somewhat similar species that overlap in range here in the Bay Area. Both are medium sized brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae) of the tribe Nymphalini. Both feed on nettles (Urticaceae) and like to make leaf nests. The appearance of the caterpillars, like most of Nymphalini are quite similar: black and/or yellowish coloration with a relatively slender body aligned with branching spines. The first time we encountered the caterpillar of P. satyrus on stinging nettle (Urtica dioca), we mistook it for V. atalanta, which were also found on the same plant.
Upon close examination, however, the two species are quite different. The following is a side-by-side comparison compiled from picture we took. V. atalanta is on the left and P. satyrus is on the right.
We found out on 8/7 that one of wild caught Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) chrysalises collected on 7/25 was parasitized by a ton of parasitoid wasps (possibly a Pediobius spp.) and today they emerged.
We're not exactly sure what species of parasitoid wasp this is, but we took a few pictures of them. There were possibly hundreds of them inside of our wild caught Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) chrysalis. Within a day of emerging, they began mating with each other directly in the petri dish we put them in. The larger ones are clearly females and the smaller ones are males.
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations on and experiences with various insects in Albany California and surrounding areas, from 2012-2017. Since we did not publish this site until 2016, posts before that were constructed retroactively. Starting in August 2017, we moved to Ithaca, New York; posts from there on can be viewed at Timeline 2017-present: Ithaca, New York.
August 2017 (49)
July 2017 (121)
June 2017 (79)
May 2017 (77)
April 2017 (91)
March 2017 (35)
February 2017 (12)
January 2017 (10)
December 2016 (12)
November 2016 (26)
October 2016 (49)
September 2016 (84)
August 2016 (94)
July 2016 (99)
June 2016 (53)
May 2016 (21)
April 2016 (4)
January 2016 (1)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (3)
June 2015 (2)
June 2014 (3)
May 2014 (1)
April 2014 (3)
March 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (11)
August 2013 (15)
July 2013 (9)
June 2013 (5)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (2)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (2)
November 2012 (1)
October 2012 (2)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (1)
June 2012 (1)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
- Not every species we encounter is necessarily presented on this site, rather a selection of those that were of particular interest to us and that we felt were worth documenting.
- We can't guarantee that all species have been identified accurately, particularly taxa we are not as familiar with.
Battus philenor hirsuta
Coenonympha tullia california
Langia zenzeroides formosana
Orthosia hibisci quenquefasciata
Papilio machaon oregonius
Papilio polyxenes asterius
Samia cynthia advena
Papilio glaucus × Papilio rutulus
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon
Araneae (Class: Arachnida)