2012 has been a banner year for Red Admiral Butterflies (Vanessa atalanta). We have flocks of red admirals on the bushes outside our Entomology building on the Purdue campus. I have also noted flocks of red admirals feeding on sap leaking from piles of wood chips.Red admiral caterpillars develop on plants of the Nettle family, Urticaceae, and are commonly found on Stinging Nettles. Stinging Nettles are protected from feeding by most herbivores by the presence of leaf hairs (trichomes) that produce irritating chemicals. Brushing against a stinging nettle with bare skin will leave a stinging sensation. Butterfly enthusiasts can promote populations of butterflies by growing host plant. However, most gardeners don’t want stinging nettles in the garden. What are the options?
It has been reported in Bioscience* by Paul Thacker that Red Admiral caterpillars will feed on the more common ornamental, Soleirolia soleirolii, (a.k.a. Baby’s Tears, Mother-of-Thousands, or the Mind Your Own Business Plant). Soleirolia soleirolii is native to Italy and the Mediterranean, but has been imported into North America as a ground cover. Gardeners who are interested in Red Admiral butterflies could consider adding this plant to their garden.
*BioScience 54(3):182-187. 2004