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Red-spotted Purple

Common Name: Red-spotted Purple.

Scientific Name: Limenitis Arthemis.

What to look for?  A swallowtail without the tail! The Red-spotted Purple most closely resembles our dark swallowtails but is tailless. This medium-sized butterfly is blue to blue-green with much iridescence on the outer part of the hindwing, while the underside is dark brown. The forewing has two (2) red-orange bars near the base of the leading edge. The hindwing has three (3) red-orange spots near the base and a submarginal row of red-orange spots.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Red-spotted Purples will usually be found here from summer into early fall. Look for them around the wildflowers around our pond banks and in our flower gardens.

How big are they? The Red-spotted Purple has a wingspan of three (3) inches. The Red-spotted Purple as a caterpillar can grow to one and one-half (1.5) inches in length.

What are their flight patterns? The flight pattern of Red-spotted Purples can be characterized as flying with quick wing-strokes. They also “flap-glide” – flapping to fly and then gliding with their wings held flat.

How else do they behave? As a protective measure, Red-spotted Purples are thought to mimic their lookalike Pipevine Swallowtails that are toxic to its would-be predators. During hibernation as a caterpillar, the breathing and metabolic rate of Red-spotted Purples slow; its blood thickens, and the percentage of water in the body drops significantly to prevent freezing damage. Males are very territorial.

What’s for dinner? Butterflies and moths have a different diet during their larval caterpillar phase than they do as winged adults. Adult Red-spotted Purples visit flowers, but they prefer to absorb moisture and nutrients from puddles, damp ground, and decaying fruit. Larvae feed on the foliage of a wide variety of deciduous trees and shrubs, including willows, wild cherry, apple, and crab apple.

Where do they take up residence? Red-spotted Purples reside across most of the U.S., including the Southwest, Midwest, and east to central New England. They are found in semi-sunny situations like stream and forest edges, woodland paths, and forest openings.

When and where do they breed and nest? Remember the lifecycle of a butterfly: (1) eggs, (2) larval state as caterpillar, (3) pupa state in chrysalis or cocoon, and (4) butterfly. With an average lifespan of two (3) weeks, Red-spotted Purples fly or mate from May into October. There are two broods a year. Eggs are laid, one at a time, on the twigs of a variety of host trees. Most of the caterpillars that emerges from its hibernaculum in early summer will metamorphose into butterflies in by late summer. Eggs from the second brood spend their winter in a chrysalis. Partially grown caterpillars hibernate through winter sheltered in a rolled leaf that is spun into a tube and secured to the twig with silk. Pupation lasts from approximately two (2) weeks and adults are typically on the wing by summer.

Where do they migrate? Red-spotted Purples do not migrate. Pupae or caterpillars can hibernate or overwinter during winter.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Red-spotted Purple:

  • The lifespan of a Red-spotted Purple butterfly is only two (2) weeks!

  • The Red-spotted Purple has a plain appearance that it is often mistaken for a Swallowtail butterfly.

  • Red-spotted Purples belong to the Brush-foot family (Nymphalidae), which is a large family with over 3,000 species worldwide and 150+ in North America; their two front legs are bristly (hence the “brush-foot”) and are so much smaller than the other four that they’re no longer usable for walking (which gives rise to the nickname “four-footed” butterflies).

For more information on the Red-spotted Purple and sources of information used in this blog (these are the several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit University of Wisconsin Extension- The Bug Lady, Missouri Department of Conservation, Massachusetts Audubon, and University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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