Using silken bands to curl the leaves inward, the caterpillars construct a tube-like shelter. (If a leaf is too sturdy to bend easily, the caterpillar simply chews through several mid-ribs at the base of the leaf to create a more flexible material.) Used for protection as the caterpillar grows, this ‘tent’ has another ingenious feature. With the opening always located at the bottom of the leaf, it’s ‘self-cleaning’--frass rolls right out! Since many predators locate their prey by smell, the larvae are motivated to keep things as clean and odor-free as possible.
When it’s time to pupate, the caterpillar consumes a good portion of the shelter and moves on once more. The pupa will be constructed in a sheltered spot, well-camouflaged to resemble a dead leaf.
The preferred cuisine of adult butterflies includes tree sap, rotting fruit, and of course nectar–milkweed and asters are favorites.
And migration isn’t just for monarchs! While their journey isn’t quite as long, red admirals also head south in the fall, passing the winter in warmer spots such as Texas.
So if you’ve ever wondered what a pesky ‘weed’ like stinging nettle is good for–just remember red admiral butterflies. They’re counting on it!