A Guide to the Insects of the Coal Oil Point Reserve

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Last updated 08/15/2005
  Insects of Coal Oil Point > Guide > Lepidoptera > Nymphalidae - Brush-footed butterflies

Nymphalidae - Brush-footed butterflies


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Limenitis lorquini | Vanessa atalanta | Vanessa cardui | Vanessa viginiensis | Vanessa annabella | Junonia coenia | Danaus plexippus | Danaus gilippus | Phyciodes mylitta

Brush-footed Butterfly Photos
(click to enlarge)

Limenitis lorquini - Lorquin's Admiral



Size: wingspread 2-2.5 in.

Recognition: Large; upperside is black with orange tips (not patch like the similar California Sister) and broken white band extending down wings; underside is red-brown with white band and markings.

Flight period: They are active from April to October.

Hostplants: Hostplants include Salicaceae trees such as Populus species (quaking aspen and cottonwoods), and Willows (Salix species); also some Rosaceae, like wild cherry (Prunus species) and some orchard trees. Adults like such flowers as California buckeye, yerba santa, privet, and may even be seen on animal feces.

Habitat: Lorquin's Admirals fly in mountain meadows and moist habitats where hostplants are found. Forest groves/edges, mountain valleys, orchards and streamsides are also frequented.

Distribution: Much of western North America, south into Baja California.

Other: The Lorquin's Admiral takes its name from an early French butterfly collector in California, Pierre Lorquin.

Vanessa atalanta - Red Admiral



Size:wingspread 1.8-2.5 in.

Recognition: Unique; bright orange/ red band cuts diagonally through middle of FW; white spots above band on otherwise dark background; HW dark with thick orange edge (with blue spots at inner corners).

Flight period: Adults can be found all year in southern California, and from March to November in other areas.

Hostplants: Larvae feed mostly on nettle, false nettle, and wood nettle (all Urticaceae).

Habitat: Red Admirals can grace the suburban yard, and are found in a variety of other habitats including open fields, scrubby areas, and foothills.

Distribution: Common and widespread throughout most of North America, but is only a seasonal colonist of areas where it cannot survive winters. Quite common in southern California and is recorded on Santa Cruz Island.

Other: In suburban yards, males will sometimes 'claim' territories, returning to the same area repeatedly for weeks.

Vanessa cardui - Painted Lady



Size:wingspread 1.8-2.5 in.

Recognition: Black and orange with red spot in mid-leading edge of FW, also has more extensive black coloring near body than other ladies; HW has black spot row along bottom edge; eyespots of underside of HW small.

Flight period: Flies on the deserts all year, and from spring until fall in coastal and mountain areas.

Hostplants: Larvae may feed on an unusual variety of plants, from several families, including mallows (Malva), lupines (Lupinus), thistles (Cirsium), and nettles (Urtica).

Habitat: Many and most habitats, from urban parks, lots, fields and grassland, into montane and desert habitats.

Distribution: Throughout North America (excluding extreme northern areas) and into Central America. There is an active population on Santa Cruz Island.

Other: Following years with good winter rains in the deserts, they will sometimes migrate north by the millions in the spring.

Vanessa virginiensis - American Lady



Size: wingspread 1.75-2.25 in.

Recognition: FWs are orange and black with white marking on mid-leading edges and small white dot on orange coloring in FW; HW has semi-connected row of dark spots along bottom edge; underside HW has large eyespots on brownish green coloring.

Flight period: Adults fly all year in southern California and April through November elsewhere in their range.

Hostplants: Everlastings and pussytoes (both Asteraceae) are the most common larval foodplants.

Habitat: Variety of habitats which include foothills, open and scrubby areas, lowlands, meadows, fields, roadsides, and suburban settings.

Distribution: Found throughout the U.S., Mexico and southeastern Canada.

Vanessa annabella - West Coast Lady



Size:wingspread 1.5-1.8 in.

Recognition: Tip of FW is flat (squared) rather than curved (rounded) like that on V. cardui; orange marking in mid-leading FW, not white like other Painted and American Ladies; row of spots on bottom HW have distinct blue center.

Flight period: Flies all year, but is common from February to November.

Hostplants: Larvae feed on plants in the mallow family (Malvaceae), including Malva, Sphaeralcea, and Sidalcea.

Habitat: Various habitats including fields, gardens, lots, urban environments, and hillsides.

Distribution: Along the West coast, from British Columbia into Mexico, but rare in deserts, it prefers lowlands. There is a permanent population on Santa Cruz Island.

Junonia coenia - Common Buckeye



Size:wingspread 1.5-2.25 in.

Recognition: At first glance it could appear a little boring, but one good look at this Buckeye reveals it to be anything but common; stunning purple and pink eyepots stand out on margins of FW and HW; two small orange/red bands are clearly marked on leading FW edges.

Flight period: All year in southern California, and March to November in more northern locales.

Hostplants: Buckeye larvae use monkeyflower (Mimulus species), snapdragon (Antirrhinum species), and plantains (Plantago species), all Scrophulariaceae.

Habitat: Common in a variety of natural and semiurban habitats, including grasslands, chaparral, old fields and roadsides; very common along our sunny, foothill trails.

Distribution: The Common Buckeye ranges over most of the southern U.S. and Mexico.

Other: As with many other butterflies, including the Monarch, the Common Buckeye expands its range northward in warmer months, retreating to the south in the fall. In the field, Buckeyes sun themselves with their wings open, giving an observer a perfect view of their unique coloring.

Danaus plexippus - Monarch



Size: wingspread 3-4.5 in.

Recognition: Distinctive and unique; bright orange cells outlined with black vein pattern; females slightly duller orange/brown with bolder black veins.

Flight period: Monarchs may be seen at any time of year in our area; inland populations are depleted in late fall and winter by coastward migration.

Hostplants: Refered to as the "milkweed butterflies." Larvae of all Monarch and the closely related Queen butterflies feed exclusively on milkweed (Asclepias and relatives), which makes them poisonous to predators.

Habitat: They are found in a huge range of settings, including urban areas, grassland, oak woodland, though rarely seen in deserts; overwintering sites are mostly located in coastal eucalyptus groves.

Distribution: Found throughout most of North America, including Mexico and southern Canada.

Other: Santa Barbara is lucky enough to be a major overwintering site for Monarchs. Starting in late fall, when temperatures begin to drop, the butterflies descend in huge numbers upon Santa Barbara, in the tens of thousands at places such as Goleta's Ellwood Grove.

Danaus gilippus - Queen



Size: wingspread 2.75-3.5 in.

Recognition: Upperside orange/brown with black and white speckled border, and the FWs have scattered white spots; underside of HW with darkened veins

Flight period: Adults active from April to November; more likely to be seen here in later part of season.

Hostplants: Like the Monarch, the larvae of the Queen feed only on milkweeds (Asclepias and relatives)

Habitat: Open areas, foothills, and arid desert settings are the most frequent habitats of the Queen.

Distribution: The Queen is a subtropical species, occurring only in the southernmost U.S. In southern California, they are relatively common in foothill and arid regions of San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties; in the fall, occasional strays may be seen along the coast from Santa Barbara south to San Diego.

Other: Queens and Monarchs are known as the "milkweed butterflies" and both larvae and adults carry toxins from these plants in their bodies, making them distasteful to predators. The Viceroy is a well-known Monarch mimic, profiting from predators learning to avoid its coloration. However, it is less well-known that populations of the Viceroy in the southwestern U.S. mimic the Queen instead.

Phyciodes mylitta - Crescent Mylitta



Size: wingspread 1-1.5 in.

Recognition: Characteristic pointed nose (snout), and black and white striped antennae with orange clubs; upperside is orange with black lines and spots, creating a band pattern; females have a lighter yellow- orange band through mid-wing; underside FW is orange and HW is brownish orange with occasional white markings.

Flight period: March to September.

Hostplants: Thistles, such as Cirsium, Cardus,and Silybium species (Asteraceae) are used as hostplants for larvae of this Crescent.

Habitat: Wet and moist habitats in fields and open areas of mountains and foothills. Adults nectar frequently.

Distribution: Western portion of continental U.S.


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