Nature on our doorsteps: Butterfly visitors
Thirty five species of butterfly are recorded in Ireland. Of these, the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady are referred to as being migrants or summertime visitors, coming to Ireland every year from southern Europe by Rosaleen Dwyer.
Because of the mighty journeys these butterflies undertake, both species are fast, strong fliers.
The journey of the Red Admiral begins in the Mediterranean. It arrives in Ireland from late April to mid-May, depending on the weather over Europe.
It is a large butterfly, named for its striking red and black wing patterns that recall the colours of military uniforms of the past.
On arriving in Ireland, the female seeks out fresh Nettles which are the main food plant for its caterpillar.
Eggs are laid singly, unlike our native Small Tortoiseshell butterfly which lays a mass of eggs, also on Nettle.
The Painted Lady’s migration begins in northern Africa. This butterfly’s colours are more subtle, with scattered oranges, browns, and white. They lay their eggs on Nettles and Thistles.
Irish-born generations of both species migrate south again in autumn.
While Red Admirals can be observed travelling south, the return flight of the Painted Lady’s offspring occurs at very high altitudes.
At these heights, this butterfly avoids bad weather closer to the ground, thereby hitching a quicker ride home on southerly winds.