What is Limenitis arthemis: The Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly

The Red-spotted purple butterfly, also known as Limenitis arthemis, is a commonly seen butterfly around the US and some areas of Canada, mostly known for its iridescent blue wings or a white band on dark background.

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly Species Summary

Scientific NameLimenitis arthemis
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatDeciduous broad-leaf, mixed evergreen forests, moist uplands, valley bottoms, and coastal plains
RangeAlaska and subarctic Canada, south to Florida, and east to New England.
Host PlantsWild cherry, aspen, poplar, cottonwood, hawthorn, deerberry, birch, willows
Butterfly DescriptionIridescent blue to black butterfly with white band on wings
Caterpillar DescriptionBrown heads, with dark brown/yellow-bordered bodies

Butterfly Physical Description

Limenitis arthemis underside
Limenitis arthemis underside

Limenitis arthemis is one of the prettiest butterflies in North America. Those that live in the north are called White admirals (Limenitis arthemis arthemis). They are known for a white band all along their wings’ dorsal and ventral surfaces.

The upper side of their winds is black, while hindwings have a marginal row of blue spots and a submarginal line of reddish dots. Their undersides are reddish-brown.

Butterflies in the south have a common name Red-spotted purples (Limenitis arthemis astyanax). Their upperside is blue/green with an iridescent outer part of the hindwing. The undersides are dark brown. Their forewings have two orange bars close to the base of the edge, and their hindwings have three orange spots.

They miss the admiral’s white line, but they’ve evolved to mimic the poisonous Pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor). Due to distribution overlap, hybridization between Admirals and Red-spotted is common.

Free Butterfly Garden Mastery Course

Sign up for our five-email course that will teach you how to identify, observe and attract butterflies to your garden.

The wingspan of this butterfly ranges from 2 1/4 to 4 inches (5.7 to 10.1 cm). Both sexes look alike, with females being slightly larger than males.

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly Sub Species

Other subspecies of these brush-footed butterflies include:

  • Limenitis arthemis rubrofasciata — the Western American White admiral
  • Limenitis arthemis arizonensis — the Arizona Red-spotted purple

Caterpillar Physical Description

Limenitis arthemis caterpillar
Limenitis arthemis caterpillar

Limenitis arthemis larvae have brownish heads and dark brown/yellow-bordered bodies. Mature caterpillars of this North American butterfly are deep olive-colored with pale white midsections on their dorsal sides. Fully grown caterpillars are 1.6 inches long.

Both legs and prolegs are reddish-brown. Third instars overwinter in a small leaf shelter attached to the host plant. Caterpillars of species in the genus Limenitis mimic bird droppings. The pupa stage is 10 to 14 days long. Chrysalis vary in color and might be creamy white or silvery gray.

What is the life span of a Limenitis arthemis?

Egg Stage4 to 9 days
Caterpillar Stage21 to 28 days
Chrysalis Stage7 to 14 days
Butterfly Stage6 to 14 days


These butterflies like deciduous woodlands, forest edges, and roadsides. Shady areas are also their preferred habitats. The White admiral is found in aspen or birch deciduous or mixed evergreen forests. The Red-spotted kind likes moist uplands, valleys, and coastal plains.

Host Plants and diet

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is the preferred host plant of Red-spotted purple. Females lay eggs in the following host plants:

  • Wild cherry
  • Aspen
  • Poplar
  • Cottonwood
  • Oak
  • Hawthorn
  • Deerberry
  • Serviceberry
  • Birch
  • Basswood
  • Willows

Spiraea japonica, privet, viburnum, and aphid honeydew are some plants for your garden if you wish to attract Limenitis arthemis.

Caterpillars located in the hybrid region feed on plants belonging to the family Salicacceae, including:

  • Aspen
  • Poplar
  • Willows

Those in the northern region prefer yellow birch trees, while southern caterpillars eat the black cherry. Adult butterflies also like sap flowers, rotting fruit, dung, and aphid honeydew.

Usual Behavior

Males perch 3 feet or higher above the ground and rarely go out looking for females. Still, this butterfly is highly active, with short flights at low altitudes. They enjoy the sun and you may notice them resting on high tree branches. During rest, Limenitis arthemis keep their wings closed and body at a 45-degree angle upwards.

When males decide to look for mates, they’ll defend the area with high female visitation numbers. Males can also be highly aggressive and patrol the area to defend it. The male-male fights are significant because females can “double-mate,” so males need to drop the competition. Territorial fights aren’t limited to mating, but they help optimize mate-seeking.

Males will start looking for females in the afternoon. Once the female lands on the leaf, the male will follow her. If she’s not ready for mating, she’ll close her dorsal wings. If mating occurs, females will lay single eggs on the tips of the host plants. Females will lay eggs for a few weeks, laying only one egg daily.

This butterfly has two broods, from April to October. Adults are diurnal — they fly from morning to dusk. They live up to 14 days.

Common Predators

The main predators are birds, bats, parasites, and other small mammals. Luckily, this butterfly mimics the color pattern of other toxic species, which may prevent predators from attacking.

Are Red-Spotted Purple Butterflies Poisonous?

This butterfly species is not poisonous. Still, it looks like a toxic kind to keep the predators away.

Where does the Limenitis arthemis live?

This butterfly species is spread all around North America. The different sub-species live in different areas.

Red-spotted purple butterfliesrange throughout Canada to Alaska
White admiralslive in New England and the southern Great Lakes all the way to Canada
Isolated populationsfrequent Arizona and New Mexico

The hybridization region includes New England and Great Lakes.

Do Red-Spotted Purple Butterflies Migrate?

This butterfly is native to the Arctic region and doesn’t migrate. However, it tends to form hybridization regions with some other species.

Is the Limenitis arthemis endangered?

The Red-spotted purple is not among the common butterflies, but it’s not endangered either. At the moment, it has a “non-extinct” status.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?