Red Admirals in the hundreds: Vermont US

Hi everyone, I eagerly await each spring. I look for the signs of the first species to show up. The first species are typically Coltsfoot followed by Dandelions, American Robins, Redwing Blackbirds, Common Grackles, spring wildflowers such as Dutchman’s Breeches, Bloodroot and more. This spring however brought some interesting observations. The first fully bloomed coltsfoot was five to seven days earlier than the last few years. More astonishing is the fact that there are Red Admirals everywhere. When I walk several at a time flutter from the Dandelions nearby. When I drive, they keep hitting my windshield. I have never seen so many of them. In fact, the amount I have seen in the last month rivals the last five years or more combined. I am wondering if it could be due to a warm winter or some other cause. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon for the Red Admiral in your home state? Are there other species that are doing this, this spring? Does anyone have insight into why? Feel free to share your thoughts and I look forward to hearing about them.

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Welcome to the forum.

I am very ignorant about temperate biodiversity and about how do species deal with winter, I live in the tropics and limit myself a bit to what I can see in real life (although I once saw a Red Admiral where I live, though). But I am indeed familiarized with many different insect population outbreaks, and find them to be one of the most unpredictable, intriguing, and awe-inspiring phenomena in nature. Population outbreaks like this are often related to an abnormally abundant food supply. Take locusts. They supposedly come out when conditions like strong rains after a drought flush out green growth. Maybe something related to an abundant food supply is happening with the Red Admirals, but in a much more complex way, probably involving migration since they are long distance migrants as far as I know. But according to this website, these massive Red Admiral population explosions have already been documented before, and their cause is unknown. Check that website out, you might find helpful information.

Guys, we would like to read more knowledgeable opinions about this topic. Population explosions are something I am very curious about. I’m sure many of you know much more than me and can help @redeft23 with this Red Admiral mystery.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write back. I like your idea that it could be due to an abundant food supply. That is a common occurrence with many species.

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I’ve never seen a large number of red admirals but I have driven through a huge painted lady (same genus, Vanessa) migration, so I wouldn’t doubt the same thing could happen with red admirals. For what it’s worth that was a “super bloom” year in the southern California deserts.

Unfortunately it was not possible to dodge them all.

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Just saw this article in my Google Alert for iNaturalist today: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/lifestyle/2024/05/08/red-admiral-butterfly-rochester-ny-sees-early-arrival-in-spring-2024/73539896007/

“Generally our area is recolonized each spring with new butterflies heading north,” Stack Whitney said. “The red admiral butterflies migrate north in the spring from states further south and even Central America.”

The mild winter the region experienced — Rochester just had its warmest on record — could help red admiral butterflies overwinter in the area or closer by. This could lead to them being observed more often and earlier in the warmer season, said Stack Whitney.

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Wow, that is interesting! I did not know this but it makes sense that they could arrive sooner and in larger numbers with a mild winter.

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Hi New England neighbor! I’m in southern Connecticut and I’ve observed the same with red admiral numbers and have been wondering what’s up too. I’ve seen more red admirals this spring than I have in the past 5-6 years combined, easily. Usually I’ll see a few visiting my garden every year, just one at a time, but this spring I’ve have 3-4 just in the boundaries of my very small property at any one time, and I’ve been seeing them almost daily for the past few weeks. I walk often and see them all over the neighborhood as well. We had quite a warm winter here in CT so I was also thinking this could be the reason.

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Yes! Michigan here, I’ve observed a lot of Red Admirals for me already this year, and have seen several twirling together (mating dance maybe?). Nothing like them hitting the windshield, but definitely more than usual. It was also a very mild winter here.

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I find it cool to see how it is so widespread. The Red Admirals seem to be settling down a little but if it is happening all over their range than weather seems like a likely cause. Having paid close attention to the changing seasons recently it is interesting to note when something is different and to hear that others have noticed this as well. Hearing that not only is this an occurrence here, but in Connecticut and Michigan is really good to know. I wonder if their large numbers will have an effect on other pollinating species.

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