Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms

with 32 comments

Red Admiral Butterfly on Plum Blossoms 3598

Click for greater clarity and size.

The first thing I checked out when I went to McKinney Falls State Park on March 13th was some Mexican plum trees, Prunus mexicana, that I remembered from last spring. I wasn’t disappointed: so many insects of various kinds were visiting the dense blossoms, especially bees, that the tree hummed. One of those insects was a red admiral butterflyVanessa atalanta.

You may say that I’m putting the metaphorical cart before the horse, but when I looked at the extended and slightly curved wings of this butterfly I couldn’t help thinking of a large jet plane gliding in for a landing. Would that all planes were as colorful.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 11, 2014 at 6:04 AM

32 Responses

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  1. It does look like a plane – except this is more beautiful!!!


    April 11, 2014 at 6:15 AM

  2. What was the shutter speed and aperture on this one? Flash or all natural? You were lucky that the plane of focus just about included the tips of those antennae! Also … tell the truth … how many shots were in this sequence? It’s instructive to compare these sorts of data to my own. D

    Pairodox Farm

    April 11, 2014 at 6:23 AM

    • In looking back at my archive, I see that I took 29 pictures of red admiral butterflies. The head-on sequence that this picture is part of consists of 9 photos, the first taken at 10:55:04 and the last at 10:55:44. The first had a shutter speed of 1/400, but the rest were 1/500. The apertures, which were set by the camera based on the light, the ISO (always 320 in this sequence), and the shutter speed, ranged from f/10 to f/7.1 (with this picture being f/8). The light was bright so I didn’t use a flash (although I occasionally use one even in bright daylight as a fill or to stop down in order to increase depth of field).

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 11, 2014 at 8:04 AM

      • Thanks … that all makes good sense. I’ve added the data to my on-board-computer (my own brain) so that perhaps I’ll be able to recall it when next I am faced with the same situation. Our temperatures are finally feeling quite spring-like … tomorrow promises something in the low 70s and we’re promised 80 on Sunday! I think we’re take the (tandem) bike out for a spin. D

        Pairodox Farm

        April 11, 2014 at 7:51 PM

  3. It does look like a jet plane. Would that all airport landing strips were as beautiful! Our red admiral is Vanessa gonerilla or kahukura (Red Cloak) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_red_admiral


    April 11, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    • Soon after I started this blog I was surprised to see a photo of a Vanessa atalanta in Germany, which I knew only from Texas. Sources indicate it seems to be native on both sides of the Atlantic. Not till now, though, have I heard of your native New Zealand species, and I see that there are even two sub-species that correspond to geographic regions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 11, 2014 at 8:12 AM

      • I didn’t know until now that there were two sub-species here. I see the Red Admiral every now and then. Apparently both our Red Admiral caterpillars and yours like nettles. And I was interested that the Vanessa atalanta likes bird droppings for sustenance. I do not know what our Red Admirals eat.


        April 11, 2014 at 8:20 AM

        • As I understand things, only the caterpillars eat in the sense that we would call eating. Adult butterflies have a proboscis that lets them suck nectar or other liquids, but I don’t think they can take in solids.

          Okay, I just did a search to see if I was right. The article at


          confirms it in general but does mention a couple of exceptions.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 11, 2014 at 9:24 AM

          • Thanks for the link. Imbibing and sipping sound delightful ways to obtain nutrition.


            April 12, 2014 at 6:37 AM

  4. I thought of an airplane, too, but the photo took me back to the days when we’d zoom around the back yard, arms extended, making what we imagined to be airplane noises, and generally having a whee of a time as we pretended to be airplanes, ourselves. Of course, those were the days when families considered it a great entertainment to pile in the car and go out to the airport to watch airplanes land and take off.

    I’ve never seen a view of a butterfly like this. The proboscis is an extra treat, along with the graceful antennae and front legs. It’s just wonderful.


    April 11, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    • Don’t recall that I ever played the zooming game you describe, but our family did once or twice drive over to Idlewild Airport (later renamed Kennedy) to watch the big planes and soak up the atmosphere of foreign countries at the international terminal.

      I don’t remember ever taking a picture of a butterfly with wings curved like this, so I’m happy to present you (and probably me) with a new kind of view.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 11, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    • Oh yes, I remember doing just that, pretending to be aeroplanes. And going to the airport to watch the planes was a regular family outing. ( I blush to tell you that I still go out to the airport to watch planes.) It’ a lovely drive to our airport and another lovely drive around the airport perimeter.


      April 12, 2014 at 6:33 AM

  5. Lots to like about this picture…color, stamens, petals, butterfly…I notice the ‘furry’ back on the thorax.

    Jim in IA

    April 11, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    • I’m glad you found a lot to like.

      As for a furry thorax, I’ve noticed that quite a few types of butterflies have that feature. So do some people.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 11, 2014 at 9:14 AM

  6. Beautiful!


    April 11, 2014 at 10:06 AM

  7. Lovely image.


    April 11, 2014 at 12:07 PM

  8. To me it looks like a stealth bomber – maybe they took inspiration from butterflies, 🙂 Great photo. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 11, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    • Thanks, Raewyn. I’m not sure how stealthy this butterfly would be, given the bright red-orange on its wings.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 11, 2014 at 2:26 PM

  9. your work is amazing.


    April 12, 2014 at 12:38 AM

  10. This is a beautiful shot, Steve! Excellent work!

    Alex Autin

    April 12, 2014 at 9:46 AM

  11. Outstanding photo!


    April 13, 2014 at 10:23 PM

  12. […] Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms. […]

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