Red Admiral a casualty of wasps
By Cushla McGaughey
The Red Admiral is our most eye-catching native butterfly.
It depends on availability of the stinging nettles on which its caterpillars feed, and may be found along forest fringes and in clearings where the native ongaonga grows.
The appropriate Maori name, kahukura, means red cloak.
But while a toreador cape invites attack, this cloak instead warns predators away, and so the sun-loving butterfly can bask in peace, with wings outspread.
Unfortunately, Red Admiral pupae lack any protection from wasps introduced to control the exotic White Butterfly pest and the Red Admiral is now seldom seen in our gardens.
A popular monarch
The Monarch Butterfly, however, has been a particularly frequent garden visitor throughout the unusually warm spring and summer months.
Self-introduced from North America, it first appeared in New Zealand about 1870 and spread throughout the North Island and most of the South Island.
The butterflies overwinter from about April onwards and may be seen in flight on mild sunny winter days.
Attractive caterpillars and butterflies
The striking caterpillar, green and gold pupa and magnificent adult often feature in illustrations of the butterfly life-cycle.
It’s less well known that you can spot a male Monarch by the scent gland visible on each hind wing. If there’s no such spot, the butterfly is a female.
The swan plant is of course the main host plant. Soon stripped by the fast-growing caterpillars, swan plants all too often die.
The Monarch has also adopted the abundant introduced weed, ragwort.
Unfortunately, the caterpillars will eat the leaves, but not the flowers or seed heads, and so do not stop the weed’s reproduction and spread.