Northern exposure...

Robert Dana robert.dana at
Mon Jan 14 10:24:29 EST 2002

Some years ago I was out on a prairie remnant in western MN quite late in the day. V. cardui was very common that summer, and a number of these were perching and chasing on the summits of some hillocks that were getting the last of the sunlight. But to my surprise, this activity continued well after sundown, to the point that I could no longer see the butterflies except when one flew up enough to be silhouetted against the sky. The air temp was well above 20 deg C. I was getting hungry and I didn't have a flashlight with me so I don't know if this activity continued into the true nightime darkness (we have long twilights in MN).

Robert Dana, Ph.D.
Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program
500 Lafayette Rd, Box 25
St. Paul, MN 55155
651 297-2367
Email: robert.dana at

>>> Andrew Warren <warrena at> 1/12/02 4:41:15 PM >>>


The record of V. atalanta dead on sea ice on May 21st raises a queation
that has been bugging me for quite some time.  I am prepared to take a lot
of heat on this one, but what the heck, I am curious if others have
experiences that may support or refute this theory.  

Can Vanessas fly at night?

What really made me consider this possibility seriously was an encounter
on May 27, 2000, with a tattered Vanessa annabella at my mercury vapor
light just before midnight (Idaho: Blaine Co., Silver Creek PReserve, 3 mi
W Picabo, 4900').  After an active night of moth collecting, on my last of
probably a dozen trips to the sheet , I was astonished to find a V.
annabella sitting in the middle of the sheet (again, just before
midnight), when no annabella was there earlier!!!  Now, in the tropics I
have taken all kinds of butterflies at MV and UV lights (swallowtails,
Pierids, Lycaenids, etc), but this almost
always occurs shortly after sunset, and soon after the lights have been
turned on (one could argue that these butterflies were perhced for the
night very near the light source and became disturbed and attracted to the
light).  The only butterflies in the tropics that I have taken at lights
well after sunset are species known to be crepuscular or nocturnal (such
as several genera of very large Pyrgine skippers).  So this encounter in
Idaho with an annabella after I had been mothing for several hours, to me,
suggests that the insect was active in the area, and was not simply
disturbed by my lights from its nocturnal perch.  Interestingly, despite
two days of intense butterfly collecting before and after May 27th at
the same site failed to result in the sighting or capture of any
additional annabellas.  

Then I remembered how on two occasions I have seen V. annabella extremely
active just before sunset, when no other butterflies were observed (one in
Douglas Co., COLO on June 13,1998- a male hilltoping literally just before
sunset; and 5-VI-2000 just outside of The Dalles, Wasco Co., ORE- a female
that never could be approached for a
photograph (but was followed for several minutes- she would not stay

Growing up in Greenwood Village, Colorado, I vividly remember Vanessa
atalanta guarding territories on roof-tops in the neighborhood just before
sunset- again when no other butterflies were active.

Okay, those are the observations that make me think the Vanessas may have
the ability to fly at night, at least during favorable conditions.  Does
anyone have similar stories of crpuscular or nocturnal Vanessa encounters?

Andy Warren

On Fri, 11 Jan 2002, Kenelm Philip wrote:

> 	The _Vanessa atalanta_ (Red Admiral) northward flight this year
> reached rather high latitudes:
> 	In Alaska, Jack Harry reported one specimen at mile 323 Dalton
> Highway, 69 degrees N, on 2 July. A number of _atalanta_ were seen near
> Haines, 59.25 degrees N.
> 	In Canada, William Davies found a single specimen on the sea ice
> about 4 km off East Bay, Southampton Island (mouth of Hudson Bay), at the
> odd date of 21 May. Latitude was approx. 64 degrees N.
> 							Ken Philip
> fnkwp at 
>  ------------------------------------------------------------ 
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