The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 16, 2006


Biodiversity Corner White Admiral

Name: The White Admiral butterfly is Basilarchia arthemis, and like the Mourning Cloak, (Biodiversity Corner, April 7) it is a member of the Nymphalidae family of brush-footed butterflies. The front two legs are small and useless for walking; they are also hairy, hence the name brush-footed. The White Admiral is also known as the Banded Purple and is in the same genus as the Red-spotted Purple which seems to be more common around here. Some lepidopterists consider them a single species and they are known to cross-breed. The Red Admiral is a distinctly different species but also a member of the brush-footed family.

When and where seen: On June 8, Tom Brownrigg saw this butterfly fluttering around the entrance to his garage. He was able to photograph it when it landed in the driveway. It lives on the borders of deciduous forests where it finds birches, willows, poplars or other hardwoods on which to lay its eggs. Between now and the end of August you might see one around the garden or near the woods feeding on nectar, aphid honeydew, or on carrion.

Identification: Neither of the common names, White Admiral or Banded Purple, are aids to identification. The butterfly is not white, it doesn't command a fleet, and it isn't purple, but it is banded. The wings are jet black on the upper side with a broad white band across the middle and usually some blue or blue-green towards the edge of the hind wings. This one had two rows of blue markings between the white band and the edge of the wing. Sometimes, not on this one and more often in the western U.S., there are brick-red spots between the white and the blue. The underside of the wings also has the white band, blue and red spots where the wing joins the body, and a row of red spots near the wing edge. It is fairly large — about three inches across. Tom said it is a very striking butterfly and one you will remember having once seen it. All adult admirals are recognizable in flight by the way they alternate between flapping and gliding, and their habit of darting at other insect-intruders in their space.

Life cycle: The White Admiral spends the winter in either its caterpillar or chrysalis phase. The caterpillar is lumpy, bumpy, olive green and brownish with a white blotch in the middle. It looks like a blob of bird droppings which is its strategy for avoiding predators. The chrysalis uses the same disguise. I have taken to looking more closely at bird droppings and was surprised on Sunday by a bird splat on a leaf in Great Brook Farm State Park that turned out to be a moth.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! These baby robins hatched on June 7 at the Beakley home on West Street. The trio appeared as eggs in their nest in Biodiversity Corner of June 2. (Photo by Jonathan Beakley)

References: Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, Robert Michael Pyle; Peterson First Guides, Caterpillars, Amy Bartlett Wright.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. The only requirements are that the topic exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a photo and some field notes to

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito