Nabokov’s Favorite Butterfly Flies North, And Straight Into Our City, For Spring

Lepidopterists, take note: if you live toward the north, you may have noticed an exceptional amount of orange and black butterflies taking to the skies. These are the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) series, which literature nerds (holler!) will recognize as Vladimir Nabokov’s favorite, to which he penned an ode in his 999-line poem Pale Fire. I haven’t seen one yet, but apparently there’s tons of them, especially here in New York City where they’ll actually end up settling. This is hardly the first time they’ve been seen — the butterflies migrate upward from the South come spring — but they’re early this year and have arrived in mass quantities. According to upstate New York paper The Daily News, “[the Red Admiral] typically arrives at the end of May, but to see it in such numbers and so early in the season is not common.” Experts agree that the phenomenon has occurred about 4-5 weeks earlier than average, most likely caused by our unseasonably warm spring.

Whatever the cause may be, these Red Admirals are beautiful as you can see. They come with an intriguing backstory, too, quoth the great novelist and amateur lepidopterist Nabokov: “Its coloring is quite splendid and I liked it very much in my youth. Great numbers of them migrated from Africa to Northern Russia, where it was called ‘The Butterfly of Doom’ because it first appeared in 1881, the year Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and the markings on the underside of its two hind wings seem to read ‘1881’. There is something interesting in the Red Admirable’s ability to travel so far.” Gothamist commenter ‘jgbeatty’ also saw one on the D train, and said it was “so cute,” which I am inclined to believe. As a butterfly admirer myself (some of my best childhood memories take place at the Butterfly Conservatory at the Museum of Natural History), I can’t wait until one of them wanders my way. Whatever you do, though, don’t touch them! [Gothamist]