Discuss NZ butterfly . info
Support NZ butterfly . info

NZ butterfly on Facebook
Helping you identify, encourage & conserve NZ's Butterflies
Contents > Butterflies > Resident > Admirals > Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Kahu Kura

Vanessa gonerilla gonerilla (was Bassaris gonerilla gonerilla)

Distribution & Status Red Admiral Distrubtion Map

Common Found nationwide where it has a supply of its foodplants. It has had a population drop off in the last few decades due to reduced numbers of Nettle Tree - Onga Onga (Urtica ferox) and since the introduction of the parasites (Ichneumon's and the wasp Pteromalus Puparum) to control the White Butterfly. However, the majority are probably lost to the self-introduced Australian Wasp, Echthromorpha intricatoria.

iNaturalist NZ
Observations map

iNaturalist NZ
Observations map for
Chatham's RA (VG ida)

Scientific Classification More info












The native Red Admiral that is only found in New Zealand. Despite the obvious similarity, it is a different species from the 'Red Admiral' (Vanessa atalanta) and 'Indian Red Admiral' (Vanessa indica) found in Europe, Asia and North America. The Maori name means Red Cloak. This is a long-lived butterfly that can have a lifespan of about 9 months for the over-wintering generation. It is expected that the lifespan is between 4 to 6 months for the summer generations. Between September and April, it can be seen in most of its life stages.

Ovum  In English

Laid individually on a Nettle leaf, generally near the stalk and fairly often on the side of one of the stinging hairs. Green in colour and barrel-shaped with 9 vertical ribs. They hatch in about 8 to 9 days. The larva eats a small hole near the top so it can get out, but will leave the rest of the shell behind.

Larvae  In English

Black or reddish-brown. Green ventral surface and whitish spots with numerous setae. They are known to change colour when moulting to provide better camouflage with their immediate environment and lighting conditions. The larvae live about 4-6 weeks in summer and the winter generation hatch in June, pupating in mid-August. They have 5 instars.

1st instar larvae are dull brown with small white flecks, simple setae and a black head. It takes about 10 days to grow to about 2.5mm. 2nd instar develop a whitish lateral stripe that appears above the legs. The setae develop growing 2 or more branches. It grows to about 5mm before moulting. 3rd instar larvae develop a more predominant lateral line and sub-dorsal lines begin to show. It will grow to about 10mm before moulting again. 4th instar larvae have an increase in setae branching and numbers while growing to about 22mm. 5th instar larvae get a green head and grow to about 36mm.

They live individually in a silken tent which it makes by attaching silken strands to curl the leaf slightly which it is presently eating until there's not much of the leaf left, at which point it moves onto another leaf and repeats the process. The colour changing and leaf-curling is for camouflage and protection from the elements and predators. However to us human's and probably some other predators their flimsy looking tents can be a give-away to their presence in the last 2 instars as they will chew part-way through the stem of the leaf to let it droop, before starting to eat the leaf from the tip. This is to stop the plant 'bleeding' sap and making feeding easier. It will make a flimsy tent with some silken strands to curl these leaves too. They also are more likely to feed in the open in the last 2 instars. They generally eat the leaves of the foodplants only. Before pupating, they spend up to 2 days head-down in a 'J' position on a leaf with their anal prolegs attached to a silken pad. Grows up to 40mm when fully grown.

The Admiral larvae can be hard to tell apart, the two easiest ways in the field is that the Red Admiral has a narrower pale patch of colour on abdominal segments 4 and 6 then the Yellow Admiral. The second being that Yellow Admirals are rarely recorded on Nettle Tree - Onga Onga (Urtica ferox) in the wild. An expert can also notice that the ratios of the setae compared to their bases are different in each species. The Pupae are equally hard to tell apart, but the Yellow Admiral is generally stouter and darker then the Red Admiral.

Pupa  In English

Mottled greyish-yellow to purple-brown with metallic golden spots depending on their immediate environment and lighting conditions to provide the best camouflage. The abdomen is lighter then the head, thorax and wings. Attached by cremaster to the foodplant or some nearby sheltered spot. Pupation lasts between 2 to 3 weeks in summer.

Imago  In English

The imago has a 50-60mm wingspan. Male is smaller then female and has narrower red/orange bands. The depth of background colour on the underside of the wings varies considerably from brown to a paled fawn. The darker variation is the most common variety encountered. With time the red bands fades to an orange with age. It has a strong, short erratic flight that is usually started with a almost vertical climb, however they also have a direct flight at about 1-2 metres above the surface which is more used when crossing less favourable terrain like water. Prefers to rest in a head-down position and is often encountered sunbathing on walls and rocks especially in late summer. Can be seen feeding on sap from tree bark and quite often with Yellow Admirals on nectar plants like Buddleia. Over winter, Red Admirals go into a quiescence, so can be seen on warm winter days on winter flowers.


There is a subspecies found in the Chatham Islands, ((Vanessa Gonerilla Ida) which looks similar apart from a subtle difference in colour and shape of the hindwing. They have a wider red patch and more rounded hindwings then the mainland Red Admiral, which has scalloping indentations between the veins. They also have the occasional specimen with a pale underside. The larvae prefer to feed on Chatham Islands Nettle (Urtica Australis). The ovum, larvae and pupae are so similar to the mainland Red Admiral that no-one has so far being able to find any distinguishing features to set them apart, but then I'm not aware of any studies to try and determine if there is any distinguishing features between the two variations. It is suspected that this sub-species has evolved after the sea flooded the 'Chatham Island Rise' all those years ago. This would be in line with other plant and animal species on the Chatham Islands.


Primarily a forest Butterfly, but is seen in most types of habitat since it's foodplants grow in most habitats from the mountains to city gardens.

Food Plants

it's favourite is Perennial Nettle (Urtica dioica) and the native favourite is Nettle Tree - Onga Onga, (Urtica ferox), however it will feed on any of the Nettle species (Urtica spp). It weaves a silken shelter within the nettle to give it protection from predators and the weather.

Lifecycle of the Red Admiral

Contents > Butterflies > Resident > Admirals > Red Admiral