Butterflies of New Mexico: The Brushfoots IV: The Admirals (Nymphalidae: Limenitidinae)

by Steven J. Cary

The Brushfoots (Nymphalidae). This family is our second richest in terms of number of species and perhaps the most variable in terms of sizes, colors, patterns and behaviors. Despite the obvious differences in wing morphology, members all share a unifying structural character: on adults, the forelegs are reduced to tiny, brush-like structures, leaving only four functional legs. Many of our most familiar butterflies are members of this family. Pursuant to Pelham’s (2019) catalog, we have ~100 species in ten subfamilies.

Admirals and Sisters (Nymphalidae: Limenitidinae). Our four species in this subfamily are large, brightly colored and easily recognized in their native habitats. Adults of some species are mimics of distasteful butterflies in other families. Their larvae are camouflage artists.


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Limenitis archippus (Cramer)                                  Viceroy (updated March 24, 2021)

Description. In its varied manifestations around North America, the Viceroy’s local appearance mimics that of Monarchs or the local Queen subspecies, from an entirely different subfamily. In general, the Limenitis archippus is orange with black veins and white-dotted black marginal bands. The extra postmedian black line on the hindwing distinguishes it from Monarchs and Queens. Range and Habitat. The Viceroy is familiar, mid-level royalty in most of temperate North America but for the west coast. It lives in the semi-arid southwest US, including New Mexico, but its reliance on willows limits it to riparian habitats below 6500′ (counties: Be,Co,Cu,DB,DA,Ed,Gr,Gu,Ha,Hi,MK,Mo,RA,Sv,SJ,SM,SF,Si,So,To,Un,Va). Life History. Willows (Salix species) and cottonwoods (Populus species) (both Salicaceae) are the primary larval hosts in our area. Nominate Limenitis archippus archippus seems to prefer the shrubby coyote willow (Salix exigua), but subspecies Limenitis archippus obsoleta seems to prefer the larger tree, Goodding’s willow (Salix gooddingii). Larvae mimic bird droppings. Half-grown larvae overwinter. Flight. There are two overlapping generations per year in northern New Mexico, from May 17 to September 18, peaking June and July. Southern New Mexico has a spring brood in May and a summer brood in August. Overall, our records span April 15 to October 24. Males patrol river banks and edges of willow stands, sometimes perching high in trees. Adults nectar at nearby flowers. Comments. Northern New Mexico has the orange, Monarch-mimicking, nominate version typical of eastern North America. Southern New Mexico has the Desert Viceroy, Limenitis archippus obsoleta (W. H. Edwards), which mimics the southwestern subspecies of the Queen, Danaus gilippus thersippus. This form is mahogany in color; the hindwing submarginal black line is weakly expressed and bordered inwardly with white spots, further de-emphasizing it. These two subspecies of Viceroy interbreed in the Rio Grande bosque between Albuquerque and Socorro, producing a variety of intermediate forms.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus archippus) Rio Chama below Monastery, Rio Arriba Co., NM; August 5, 1989 (photo by Steve Cary).
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus archippus) Ohkay Owingeh Lakes, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, Rio Arriba Co., NM; July 18, 2016 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Desert’ Viceroy (Limenitis archippus obsoleta) near Mesilla, Dona Ana Co., NM; September 2, 2020 (photo by Jim VonLoh).
‘Desert’ Viceroy (Limenitis archippus obsoleta) near Mesilla, Dona Ana Co., NM; September 25, 2019 (photo by Jim VonLoh).
‘Desert’ Viceroy (Limenitis archippus obsoleta) along Rio Grande south of Mesilla, Dona Ana Co., NM; July 26, 2020 (photo by C. J. Goin).

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Limenitis arthemis (Drury)                 Red-Spotted Admiral (updated January 12, 2021)

Description. Beautiful Red-Spotted Admiral mimics bad-tasting Pipevine Swallowtail, which makes it a visually prominent part of the southern New Mexico butterfly fauna. It is velvety black above grading to iridescent blue on the outer wing surfaces. Undersides are dark purple with bold orange spots. Range and Habitat. The species we call Limenitis arthemis is known from boreal Canada and the northeastern US, where it has a white band like that of Limenitis weidemeyerii (below) and is called the White Admiral. The southeastern US has subspecies Limenitis arthemis astyanax, which lacks the white bands. Unbanded populations also thrive in the southwestern US and northern Mexico as subspecies Limenitis arthemis arizonensis W. H. Edwards. In New Mexico, look for ‘Arizona’ Red-Spotted Admirals in Upper Sonoran Zone riparian canyons (counties: Ca,DA,Ed,Gr,Hi,Li,Lu,Ot,SF,Si,So), usually 5000 to 8000′ elevation. Our three Limenitis species replace each other altitudinally in southern New Mexico, with Limenitis arthemis in the middle. Life History. Hosts for larvae are deciduous trees and shrubs in the genera Salix, Populus, Prunus and Quercus. Willows seem to be a key indicator for this species in New Mexico. Larvae hibernate half-grown. Flight. New Mexico adults fly from March 1(!) to November 10, suggesting two to three overlapping generations per year. Adults patrol along riparian canyons, perch on overhanging branches, and come to nectar. Comments. A find of a Red-Spotted Admiral near Santa Fe in 2016 suggests this butterfly may be expanding its range to the north. Hybrids with congeners are rare, but two hybrids with Limenitis weidemeyerii are known (Li,Si), as is one with Limenitis archippus obsoleta (Hi).

Red-Spotted Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arizonensis) Percha Creek above Kingston, Black Range, Sierra Co., NM; July 22, 2018 (photo by Steve Cary).
Red-Spotted Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arizonensis) Organ Mountains, Dona Ana Co., NM; September 22, 2008 (photo by Steve Cary).
Red-Spotted Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arizonensis) Black Bill Canyon, Animas Mountains, Hidalgo Co., NM; September 5, 1992 (photo by Steve Cary).
Red-Spotted Admiral larva (Limenitis arthemis arizonensis) Rio Tularosa, Catron Co., NM; July 17, 2003 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Limenitis weidemeyerii W. H. Edwards    Weidemeyer’s Admiral (updated January 12, 2021)

Description. Weidemeyer’s Admiral is black above, with bold white bands crossing fore- and hindwings. This aposematic pattern is repeated below, but masked by gray, white and rusty pastel accents. Range and Habitat. Essentially a Rocky Mountain species, Limenitis weidemeyerii is distributed from Alberta to AZ and NM and from NV to SD. In New Mexico it inhabits Transition and Canadian Zone watercourses in our major mountain ranges (counties: Be,Ca,Ci,Co,Gr,Li,LA,MK,Mo,Ot,RA,Sv,SJ,SM,SF,Si,So,Ta), generally 6500 to 11,000′ elevation. Life History. Hosts are willows (Salix) and aspen (Populus tremuloides; both Salicaceae) and some Rosaceae (Prunus, Amelanchier and Holodiscus species). Larvae roll leaves into shelters, rather like many skippers. Flight. Weidemeyer’s Admiral completes two overlapping summer generations in New Mexico. Adult observations fall between May 13 and October 13, peaking from June to August. Males perch on branches that overhang mountain streams, then patrol up- and down-stream looking for females, often returning to the same perch. Adults feed at nectar, moist earth and other tasty treats like campfire ashes and dung. Comments. The nominate subspecies prevails in northern and south-central New Mexico, including Sierra Blanca and the Sacramento Mountains (Li,Ot). It has relatively wide white bands. Southwest New Mexico has subspecies Limenitis weidemeyerii angustifascia (W. Barnes & Benjamin), which has relatively narrow white bands and the underside is more heavily washed with white scales.

Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii weidemeyerii) east of Black Lake, Colfax Co., NM; July 5, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary).
Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii weidemeyerii) Pajarito Ski Area, Los Alamos Co., NM; July 22, 2019 (photo by Marc Bailey).
‘Narrow-Banded’ Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii angustifascia) San Mateo Mountains, Socorro Co., NM; June 15, 2015 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Narrow-Banded’ Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii angustifascia) near Eagle Peak, Gila National Forest, Catron Co. NM; May 21, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary).
‘Narrow-Banded’ Weidemeyer’s Admiral (Limenitis weidemeyerii angustifascia) settle in for a mid-day sack at Baca Tank, Canon de Lolo near Quemado Lake, Catron Co., NM; June 24, 1995 (photo by Steve Cary).

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Adelpha eulalia (E. Doubleday)                   Arizona Sister (updated January 12, 2021)

Description. Adelpha eulalia is large and unforgettable. Against a dark background, a white stripe angles across the wings toward an apricot-colored triangular patch in the forewing apex. Undersides are camouflaged with pastel lavender, white and cantaloupe. Range and Habitat. Arizona Sisters live from the Mexican Sierra Madre north to the Sierra Nevada in California and the Rocky Mountains in Utah and Colorado. It inhabits oak woodlands in New Mexico (all counties but Cu,Gu,Ha,Le,Qu,Un), generally 5000 to 8500′ elevation. Life History. Oaks (Fagaceae) are the hosts. Larvae are content to eat Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii), Arizona oak (Quercus arizonica), Emory oak (Quercus emoryi) and probably others. Larvae overwinter. Flight. Northern New Mexico populations fly in two generations: June 7 to July 5, and July 24 to September 19. Southern New Mexico supports three overlapping generations between April 21 and November 11. Males patrol canyons with a characteristic flight – a few rapid wing flaps alternate with wings-out coasting – then perch head-down on exposed branches to watch for females. Adults come to wet sand, but rarely nectar. They are capable flyers and may wander out to our eastern plains, far from breeding areas. Comments. “I learn from Miss C. Ellis that this butterfly is common in the Sandia Mountains, N. M. This . . . extends its range about 200 miles northward in this region” (Cockerell 1901b). We used to call this butterfly the California Sister, Adelpha bredowii Geyer, which is now understood to be a distinct species.

Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia) Pacheco Canyon, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe Co., NM; August 29, 2017 (photo by Steve Cary).
Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia) east of Emory Pass, Black Range, Sierra Co., NM; June 5, 2007 (photo by Steve Cary).

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