Butterfly Invasion

Twenty times more admirals than normal are moving into the province.

May 2, 2012 | | Blogs | Environment | Notes from the Wild

They caught my eye as I drove home from work on April 18th, three small, dark butterflies flitting erratically across the road. I was intrigued. What species were they? Something interesting was afoot or more aptly, aflutter.

The Toronto Star provided the answer the next morning. Eastern Canada is currently being invaded by a pretty little butterfly called the red admiral. These wayfarers migrate every spring into Ontario from the United States.

They produce two or three generations here and then in the fall, like monarch butterflies, retreat southward to warmer climes.

The difference this year is not only their early arrival – usually this northward migration is more a May phenomenon than April – but their astonishing numbers. The Star suggested that twenty times more admirals than normal are moving into the province.

I don’t know where this estimate comes from – some years these butterflies are abundant, other years rather uncommon – but it is clear that this invasion is exceptional.

Like all butterflies, red admirals are graced with an uncanny ability to find their larval food plants. Plant stinging nettle and they will come. Now stinging nettle is a rather nasty plant – brush against its minute acid tipped spines and your skin will instantly develop painful itching.

However, I’ve grown it for years without incident. I place it off the beaten path and remember to remove its flowering stalks each year so it doesn’t seed itself elsewhere in my yard – or in my neighbour’s!

The usual butterfly flowers offer a more benign way to attract admirals. Red admirals also have a weakness for rotting fruit.

Whether you provide nettle or not, do take a moment this spring to admire the admirals. They are subtly lovely and they often sit long enough for photography. Let’s enjoy this unexpected natural abundance.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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