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Red Spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis )Butterfly

Life Cycle and Habitat of the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly

Observing a butterfly in nature is always a treat, but if you see a species that actually shimmers in the light, it can be a magical experience. The Red Spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) has wings that have an eye-catching iridescent sheen that truly catches the light. In this article, we will take a closer look at the life cycle and habitat of the species.

The Appearance of the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly


Red Spotted Purple Butterfly
Red Spotted Purple Butterfly


The Red Spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) is also known as the Red Spotted Purple Admiral. This is a North American brush-footed butterfly species which is a perfect example of natural evolutionary mimicry and hybridization between non-mimetic and mimetic butterfly species. This species can be broadly divided into two groups based on the characteristics. They are:

1.    The Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis artemis) Butterfly


This butterfly has dramatic blue or blue-green tiny scales which catch the sunlight. The tips of the wings have red or orange markings and this butterfly seems to have a swallowtail. But, this is a deception, this butterfly has no tail and this false appendage has evolved to look like a Pipevine Swallowtail which is distasteful for predators.

The Red-Spotted Purple butterfly typically has a 3” up to 3.5” wingspan and it can produce 2-3 broods throughout the year.


2.    The White Admiral (Limentitis astyanax) Butterfly


The upper side of this species is similar to the Red Spotted Purple butterfly, but there are prominent wing bands on the wings. The forewing may have a row of red spots and the hindwings are an iridescent blue-green or bright green color. Under the wings, there is no white band and the basal area may have more submarginal red and marginal blue spots.


Life Cycle of the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly


The lifecycle of the Red Spotted Purple butterfly follows the same pattern as other butterflies with unique observable differences at each stage of life. They are:


1.    The Butterfly Eggs of the Limenitis arthemis astyanax


They have a kite-like appearance, they are green-gray in color and after they are laid, they tend to persist in that state for around a week. During this period, the eggs change color to pale green and then a darker shade of gray. On closer inspection, the eggs are covered with an intricate hexagon pattern with tiny spikes that arise at each vertex.


2.    The Caterpillar Stage


Red-spotted Purple Admiral
Red-spotted Purple Admiral

After the egg hatches, a caterpillar emerges and this stage of life will typically last for a couple of weeks. The body is green-brown or olive green and bordered with dark brown and yellow markings with red-brown legs.


There is a prominent pink-white saddle and a white line along the body. A pair of thick branched horns are present on the prothorax and a smaller pair of branched spines extend from the posterior.


A series of humps can be seen along the length of the body. The head is entirely brown with a cleft on top and a fringe of tiny spines.


When the larvae are fully grown, they will be 1.6” long. These caterpillars look similar to Viceroy larvae, but they have fewer spines and they are bird-dropping mimics. In fact, the genus Limenitis is the only horned mimic caterpillar that imitates bird droppings as a survival strategy.


3.    The Pupa Stage of the Butterflies Life


When the caterpillar has consumed sufficient calories for their next stage of life, they form and enter the pupa or chrysalis. The pupa color can vary from creamy white to silver-gray and it is attached to the terminal end with a small pad of silk. The chrysalis stage typically last for two weeks until the new butterfly emerges-


4.    The Adult Butterfly


Ventral view of Red Spotted Purple Admiral Butterfly
Ventral view of Red Spotted Purple Admiral Butterfly

The Red Spotted Purple Admiral butterfly has iridescent blue wings that are covered with darker lines. There are black, blue, white, and orange spots formed on the wing borders that become visible when the butterfly spreads its wings. When the wings are closed, there is a lighter blue color and the basal area has a row of marginal blue and sub-marginal red spots.


The White Admiral variant has a prominent broad white band across both the primary and secondary wings. The base of the wings is jet black when the wings are opened and a stitch pattern can be observed on the wing borders. When the wings are closed, the color is purple-red or red-orange with darker red dots with black/white markings.



The average wingspan for both variants is 3” up to 3.5” and they tend to take shorter flights at altitudes of 2-3 feet which is low for most butterfly species.


Habitat of the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly


Red-Spotted Purple butterflies are typically found in Eastern U.S. states, but there are limited populations in the Southwest regions too. Their favored habitat is woodland, but they may venture into suburbs if there are plants to support them.


This butterfly can be found as far north as Canada and down the east coast to the Gulf. When it’s seen in nature, this butterfly may be sipping at mud puddles or feeding on ground level plants.


Plant Species for Attracting Red Spotted Purple Butterflies


Like all butterflies, this species is attracted to flower nectar, but if you want to entice them into your yard you can offer fruit. Placing some cut apples, citrus fruit, overripe bananas, and other tasty options a couple of feet above ground level should do the trick. Their preferred nesting plants are willows, cottonwoods, and wild cherries if you want to observe their entire lifecycle up close.


Threats to the Habitat of the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly


Red Spotted Purple butterfly in nature
Red Spotted Purple butterfly in nature

It is rare to see a Red Spotted Purple butterfly in nature, but there is no clear answer to whether they are an endangered species. There has been a significant decline in the population in the last decade and the main threat is a loss of suitable habitat. Modern agriculture has encroached on a number of natural areas all down the eastern seaboard.


Another cause may be the use of pesticides and these chemicals have been linked to the death of sensitive butterfly larvae. As you can imagine, this can have a significant impact on the entire butterfly population.


A Red-Spotted Purple has a typical lifespan of two years and in that time, it can produce 2-3 broods per year. So, it seems unlikely that there isn’t some form of threat that is inhibiting their population growth. In captivity, these butterflies can live up to five years which does provide some hope to build up their numbers and release them back into an improved natural habitat.


Interesting Facts About the Red Spotted Purple Butterfly


The male of the species is quite aggressive and it will engage in territorial disputes before the reproductive season begins. Every fight can last 2-5 minutes and the loser is forced to find somewhere else to mate. When the male seeks a mate, he will land on a female, and if she is unwilling she will close her wings.


Red Spotted Purple Butterfly- In Conclusion


The Red Spotted purple butterfly is a beautiful creature that shimmers in the sunshine. If you’re lucky enough to have these butterflies visit your yard, you can feed them with cut fruit to encourage them to stick around. Adding their favorite nesting plants may give you the opportunity to observe their entire lifecycle up close which is a fascinating experience for everyone.

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