One thing is certain for 2012, I have significantly more butterflies this year than in year's past. Perhaps it is because the caterpillar and chrysalis population fared better with the milder winter . Perhaps it is because the weeds, herbs and plants, which their caterpillars depend upon, thrived with the milder winter and have provided a greater food supply. Or perhaps, we have a smaller wasp population this early in the year permitting more caterpillars to metamorphose into butterflies. Whatever the reason, we have a ton of butterflies of all different varieties in our garden this year. (In the last few years, our local butterfly expert, Dale Clark, has written several articles about how past droughts and wasp infestations have impacted the caterpillar populations: article 1 and article 2.)
The other day, I went out into the backyard where our Little Henry Sweetspire bushes are in full bloom, and I was surprised to see a multitude of beautiful Red Admiral butterflies.
When I say a multitude, I am talking 15 to 25 of these guys flying around in a pretty limited area.
They have remained in this area of the backyard for about a week now.
I don't recall seeing Red Admirals in the past. Perhaps I have seen them before and just confused them for Commas or Questionmarks. They are much smaller than I expected. With a name like "Red Admiral", I expected a large butterfly about the size of a Black Swallowtail or Giant Swallowtail; however, these are relatively small in the neighborhood of 2 to 3 inches -- about the size of a Comma or Questionmark.
The photograph below shows a portion of the area in our backyard where they are feeding. In this part of the yard, we have Little Henry Sweetspire, Encore Azaleas, and Japanese Maples. You can see one of the japanese maples that recently died on us during the torrid heat of last summer.
The Sweetspire have pretty, white racemes of flowers that have a mild, sweet smell. In the evening, you can just barely get a trace of their scent as you pass by. Up close, the flowers have a noticeable and pleasant smell.
Here is a photograph of a Red Admiral feeding on a sweetspire flower.
The following video does not do justice to the number of butterflies that we have flying around. Indeed, you can only see 5 to 6 of them flying around in the video, but you can see them feeding.
You can adjust the resolution of this video up to 1080p
*** Added on 4/18/2012
If you look around the internet, it appears that Red Admirals are appearing en masse all around North America this Spring. Interesting. Check out these sites: