Meet the Red Admiral Butterfly and Learn How to Attract Them

Updated: May 24, 2021

Learn how to identify and attract red admiral butterflies. Find out what they eat, where they live and what host plants their caterpillars munch.

Red admiral butterflies are as striking as they are common, although you may not know much about them. Here are the most asked questions about these majestic fluttering insects.

What Markings Do Red Admiral Butterflies Have?

Adult butterflies are medium-sized with a wingspan of 1 to 2 1/2 inches. The forewing is dark with a red-orange stripe and white dots and the hindwing boasts a red-orange border. The undersides of the wings are mottled brown and gray, perfectly designed for blending in with the trunks of trees when they land. Check out our butterfly ID cheat sheet for more help identifying butterflies.

A red admiral butterfly sits on a flowering plum tree branch. Ursula Anderson

Where Do Red Admiral Butterflies Live?

Red admirals are found nearly everywhere in the United States, Mexico and southern Canada, as well as Europe and western Asia. Males are especially active in the afternoon and evening as they look for females. When cold weather sets in, northernmost butterflies migrate south while those further south find sheltered nooks in trees or rocks to settle into for the winter as they enter diapause (hibernation). These adaptations enable them to survive in a variety of situations.

Check out 6 common swallowtail butterflies you should know.

What Do Red Admiral Butterflies Eat?

Adult red admiral butterflies visit flowers but prefer tree sap, fermenting fruit and animal droppings, allowing them to emerge in early spring before nectar flowers may be plentiful. Put out overripe fruit to attract them—bananas or strawberries work well. Caterpillars only nibble on their host plant, which is nettle. You can find them on stinging nettle, false nettle and wood nettle.

Three red admiral caterpillars sitting on a leaf.Przemyslaw Muszynski/Shutterstock

What Do Red Admiral Caterpillars Look Like?

Red admiral caterpillars are mostly black or dark brown and spiky, with or without speckling. They also have yellow markings along their sides. Although the caterpillars look as if they could be painful or toxic, they are in fact perfectly safe to handle.

Next, check out 6 go-to flowers you should plant in your butterfly garden.