American Lady Butterfly: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

The American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) is an enchanting creature found across North America. Famous for its vibrant colors and patterns, this butterfly has captured the hearts of nature enthusiasts everywhere.

American Lady Butterflies can be easily distinguished from their close relative, the Painted Lady Butterfly, by the two large eyespots on their hindwings, as opposed to the four smaller eyespots found on Painted Ladies.

Additionally, American Ladies have a unique pattern on their forewings.

Some fascinating features of the American Lady Butterfly include:

  • Migratory behavior, with large populations traveling south for the winter
  • Diverse diet as caterpillars, feeding on various plants such as pussytoes, everlasting, and pearly everlasting
  • Adult butterflies with a preference for nectar from flowers like dogbane, common milkweed, and asters

When it comes to appreciating these captivating creatures, it’s important to remember that their existence relies on the conservation of habitats and the plants they feed on.

By planting native flowers and practicing eco-friendly gardening, individuals can contribute to the survival and thriving of the American Lady Butterfly.

American Lady Butterfly Identification

Physical Features and Colors

The American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) is known for its distinctive appearance. Some key features include:

  • Orange and black colors on its wings
  • White spots on the dark forewing tips
  • White cob webbing on the brown underside of the hindwing

These colors and patterns make the American Lady easy to recognize in its natural habitat.

Wingspan and Size

The size of the American Lady butterfly is another important aspect to consider when identifying this species. A brief summary of its dimensions includes:

  • Wingspan: ranges from 1 3/4 to 3 inches (4.5 to 7.6 cm)

The American Lady’s size and unique physical features make it stand out among other butterfly species. In comparison to another popular butterfly, the Painted Lady butterfly, the American Lady is distinguished by its:

  • Concave or “notched” outer edge of the forewing
  • Two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, as opposed to the Painted Lady’s four small eyespots

Here’s a comparison table of the two species:

FeatureAmerican LadyPainted Lady
Forewing outer edge shapeConcave or “notched”Straight or slightly concave
Eyespots on hindwingTwo large eyespotsFour small eyespots
Overall sizeWingspan of 1 3/4 to 3 inchesWingspan of around 2 to 3 inches

By observing these identifying characteristics, anyone can appreciate the beauty and distinct features of the American Lady butterfly.

Lifecycle of the American Lady Butterfly

Eggs

The American lady butterfly begins its life as a yellow-green egg. The female butterfly typically lays her eggs on the underside of the host plants’ leaves, providing a safe environment for the developing larvae.

Caterpillars

Once the eggs hatch, the tiny American lady caterpillars emerge. They are known for their distinct appearance:

  • Variable body colors
  • Black spines
  • Length of approximately 1.4 inches when fully grown

These caterpillars spend most of their time eating the host plant leaves, growing and molting through several stages called instars.

American Lady Butterfly Caterpillar

Pupa

When the caterpillar is ready to transform into an adult butterfly, it forms a chrysalis or pupa. This stage is marked by the following characteristics:

  • Small, green, and well-camouflaged
  • Forms on the host plant or nearby structures
  • Can last a few weeks

Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes a process called metamorphosis, transforming its body structure into that of a mature butterfly.

Adult Butterfly

Finally, the newly transformed American lady butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. Adult butterflies mainly focus on reproduction and feeding on nectar from flowers. Their lifespan is relatively short, typically only lasting several weeks.

Feeding and Habitat

Habitat Preferences

The American lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) thrives in a variety of habitats, such as:

  • Open areas
  • Gardens
  • Fields

These butterflies prefer regions with lots of sun exposure and sheltered spaces for basking in the sun1.

Host Plants and Flowers

American lady butterflies are drawn to specific host plants:

  • Cudweed (Gnaphalium)
  • Antennaria (Everlastings)
  • Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
  • Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium)
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum)

Some nectar-rich flowers they feed on include:

  • Ironweed (Vernonia)
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum)

American Lady

Feeding Habits

Adult American lady butterflies feed on various substances, such as:

  • Nectar from flowers2
  • Tree sap
  • Decaying fruit

The larvae feed primarily on the foliage of their host plants to support their growth and development.

Distribution and Range

North America

The American lady butterfly is part of the brush-footed butterfly family and has a wide range throughout North America, from Canada to the United States and Mexico. They are commonly found in meadows and open fields.

The red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), which belongs to the same genus, can also be found in North America but differs in appearance, with striking orange to red colored stripes on the fore and hind wings1.

Central and South America

The American lady butterfly extends its range into Central and South America but has a lesser presence in these areas compared to North America. Their distribution covers a variety of habitats, including meadows and open spaces2.

Table 1. Comparing American Lady and Painted Lady Butterflies

FeatureAmerican LadyPainted Lady
GenusVanessaVanessa
Geographic RangeNorth, Central, and South AmericaNorth, Central, and South America
Preferred HabitatMeadows, open fieldsFields, gardens
Major Wing ColorationOrange and blackOrange and black
Forewing Tip MarkingsWhite spotsWhite spots
Hindwing UndersideTwo large eyespotsFour small eyespots

Behavior and Natural Predators

Flight Patterns and Pollination

American lady butterflies have distinct flight patterns, characterized by:

  • Quick, darting movements
  • Long glides with wings outstretched

They play a vital role in pollination, visiting a variety of flowers.

Predator Defense Mechanisms

American lady butterflies have developed several defense mechanisms to deter predation:

  • Camouflage: Their brownish-gray underside mimics dead leaves when wings are closed.
  • Distastefulness: They acquire toxic alkaloids from host plants, making them unpalatable to predators.

Common Predators

Common predators of the American lady butterfly include:

  • Birds
  • Spiders
  • Praying mantises
  • Lady beetles

For example, they can fall prey to lady beetles, which are known to consume up to 5,000 aphids during their lifespan.

An American Lady Butterfly Caterpillar

Comparing American Lady Butterfly and Red Admiral Butterfly

FeatureAmerican Lady ButterflyRed Admiral Butterfly
Flight PatternQuick, dartingMore steady
HabitatGardens, meadowsWetlands in forest ecosystems
Wingspan Size (inches)1.75 – 31.75 – 3
Defense MechanismsCamouflage, distastefulnessMimicry, distastefulness

Conclusion

In conclusion, the American Lady Butterfly is a beautiful species that is known for its distinctive colors and patterns.

With its migratory behavior, diverse diet, and essential role in pollination, the American Lady remains a cherished creature among nature enthusiasts.

Therefore, we must conserve its habitats and native plants to contribute to their thriving existence.

Footnotes

  1. Landscaping to Attract Butterflies and Moths 2

  2. American lady – Vanessa virginiensis (Drury) 2

Readers’ Mail

Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these beautiful insects (both larva and adult). Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – American Lady

Subject: Butterfly at the Beach
Location: Aransas Pass, Texas
May 3, 2015, 9:32 pm
Hello, we’re seeing a tremendous number of butterflies this spring. This one was enjoying the lantana at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute on April 28th, just yards from the Gulf of Mexico.

I think it’s an Emperor, but still find them confusing despite your help identifying them in the fall of 2013.
Thank you and best wishes!
Signature: Ellen

May 3, 2015, 10:09 pm
Hello again,
Could the butterfly be one of the Ladies, perhaps an American Lady? I didn’t see the lovely rose color under the wing, though, and the eye spots are confusing me. Thank you!
Signature: Ellen

American Lady
American Lady

Dear Ellen,
You are correct that this is an American Lady,
Vanessa virginiensis, and this composite image on BugGuide explains the differences between the American Lady and the Painted Lady. 

Though your garden photos of butterflies like this Red Admiral are lovely, it is refreshing to know you also take images of butterflies in your travels.

American Lady

 

American Lady

Letter 2 – American Lady

Subject: Butterfly ID
Location: Pacific Grove, CA
September 23, 2016 11:48 pm
Hi, This butterfly appeared on our back deck and stayed on the flower for quite a while. We think it’s a kind of American Lady. We were curious whether it is color or markings that distinguish among sub-families.

It was in Pacific Grove, California, morning, and spent a lot of time on the flower. Note that because of squirrels we’ve converted from fruit trees to pollinators and installed a very successful beehive. Thanks for taking a look at this. Good luck!

Signature: David

American Lady

 

American Lady

Dear David,
We agree that this is an American Lady,
Vanessa virginiensis, and according to BugGuide:  “If present (it isn’t always–see below), a white dot in the orange of the forewing distinguishes American Lady from the Painted Lady.” 

This BugGuide illustration nicely explains how to distinguish various species.  Though its wings are faded, your individual still shows the telltale white spot.

Letter 3 – American Lady Butterfly

Subject:  Common Buckeye?
Geographic location of the bug:  Central Florida
Date: 08/26/2019
Time: 07:30 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: 

Hi!

I was stalking butterflies around my sister’s garden with my camera when visiting her recently in Florida…I snapped a photo of this pretty lady/fellow but discovered I missed getting it with wings open.  Is this a common buckeye? 

Thanks!
How you want your letter signed:  Leslie F.

 

American Lady

Hi Leslie,
This is not a Buckeye.  The two spots on the hind wings are distinguishing features of the American Lady.  Here is a BugGuide image for comparison.

Letter 4 – American Lady Caterpillar

Caterpillar
Hello,
I found this caterpillar in my yard (Pensacola, Florida) and I wanted to see if you could help me identify it. It is not very big, I would say about 1 and a half inches long. Thanks
Noel

Hi Noel,
Your caterpillar is an American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis. You can read more about it on BugGuide.

Letter 5 – American Lady Caterpillar

South Texas Caterpillars
Hi! Since you were so helpful the last time i found a great bug, here’s another for you: I found two of these little guys in my backyard under an oak tree. They were on plants close to the ground in close proximity to each other.

I put them in a “tank” i had for a betta fish with the plants they were on plus a few more to chow on. The plants were kept alive by pulling up the roots (easy to do in sandy soil) and placing them into a bulb vase with water.

A wire/mesh screen was taped to the top of the “tank” to prevent escape. I found them on Wednesday and by Friday afternoon they were already starting to pupate. I am really excited to see what they turn into.

I am in Magnolia, Texas (a bit north of Houston). Any chance you can tell me what kind of butterfly/moth to expect? Thanks!

Mary

Hi there Mary,
This is an American Lady Butterfly Caterpillar, Vanessa virginiensis, which we located on BugGuide. The Lady Butterflies, including the Painted Lady, are Brush-Footed Butterflies. The caterpillar feeds on Cudweeds and Everlastings.

Letter 6 – American Lady Caterpillar

American Lady Caterpillar?
Hi,

I think I’ve identified this caterpillar from your site as an American Lady (post from S. Texas, May 2007). The description in Peterson’s Eastern Butterflies seems to confirm it.

They are feeding on a licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) in a window box outside our living room window in Kansas City. We’ve planted Helichrysum many times, but the first time we’ve seen these caterpillars on them.

Can you confirm the ID as an American Lady for me? Great site! Keep up the good work.
Brett

Hi Brett,
We concur that this is an American Lady Caterpillar, Vanessa virginiensis, and it exactly matches an image on BugGuide. Your high-resolution, excellent-quality photograph is a welcome addition to our site.

Letter 7 – American Lady Caterpillar

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Davidson County, NC
May 25, 2016, 6:58 am
Hi, bugman! Can you help ID this caterpillar? I’ve looked at many pictures today and can’t find them. Thank you!
Signature: Donna

American Lady Caterpillar

 

American Lady Caterpillar

Dear Donna,
We had to scroll through quite a few Brush Footed Butterfly Caterpillars before we identified your American Lady Caterpillar,
Vanessa virginiensis, thanks to images posted to BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Cudweeds, Everlastings and Pussytoes – Gnaphalium, Anaphalis, Antennaria.”

American Lady Caterpillar

 

American Lady Caterpillar

Letter 8 – American Lady Caterpillar

Subject: caterpillar on lamb’s ears
Location: San Diego, CA
June 24, 2017, 6:49 pm
Hello,
I have a plant that just popped up in my garden and think it’s a lamb’s ears. Each tip of the tallest 5-7 branches has been folded up into caterpillar homes. See picture… Do you have any idea what they might be?
Thank you!
Signature: Judy Sharp

 

American Lady Caterpillar

Dear Judy,
This distinctive caterpillar is an American Lady Caterpillar,
Vanessa virginiensis.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Cudweeds, Everlastings and Pussytoes – Gnaphalium, Anaphalis, Antennaria.” 

BugGuide also makes reference to the caterpillars making “leaf shelters” and there is a nice image on BugGuide with the caption “The larva weaves the leaves together and feeds inside the shelter.”

Thank you, Daniel,
That’s exactly what they are doing – “weaving” for shelter. I see no signs of them feeding on any leaves. I hope they survive. I look forward to seeing them as butterflies. 🙂
Judy

Dear Judy,
We would love any images you can send of chrysalids or adults once they emerge.

Letter 9 – American Lady Caterpillar on Plantain-Leaved Pussytoes

Da bug
I am a ranger at Okefenokee NWR, where we have many species of butterflies. I found this caterpillar on March 28, 2008, on what may be its host plant. Can you identify the caterpillar, and, ideally, the plant? Thanks for a great website!

Sallie Gentry
Refuge Ranger
Okefenokee NWR
Folkston, GA

Da bug
Sallie,
Here’s your caterpillar. Have you figured out the plant yet? See you Monday.
JR

Hi Sally,
It looks like JR gave you a task for the weekend. The caterpillar is an American Lady Caterpillar, Vanessa virginiensis. We found a website that states: “The larvae, unlike those of the Painted Lady, feed on a comparatively limited range of foodplants.

The preferred food sources are plants of the everlasting tribe of the Compositae, such as sweet everlasting ( Graphalium obtusifolium ), pearly everlasting ( Anaphalis margaritacea ), and plantain-leaved pussytoes ( Antennaria plantaginifolia ).

They also feed occasionally on burdock ( Arctium ), wormwood ( Artemisia ), and ironweed ( Vernonia ) (Opler and Krizek 1984; Scott 1986).” Additional web searching led us to the Connecticut Botanical Society website.

We believe your plant is the Plantain-Leaved Pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, also known as Woman’s Tobacco.

Letter 10 – American Lady Caterpillars

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Somerville, Ma
July 4, 2017, 12:46 pm
We are interested in Finding out what kind of caterpillar this is.
Signature: Amy

 

American Lady Caterpillars

Dear Amy,
These American Lady Caterpillars,
Vanessa virginiensis, will eventually transform into a lovely orange American Lady butterfly.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Cudweeds, Everlastings and Pussytoes.”

Hello,
I so wish I could send you something cool, but all the tents have been invaded and they are all gone. I think the Mockingbirds got to them. We had a nest of them in our climbing rose with 3 fledglings all about.

Maybe we’ll get them again sometime!

Sadly,
Judy

Letter 11 – American Lady Caterpillars

Subject:  Painted Lady Caterpillars?
The geographic location of the bug:  Lake County Illinois
Date: 07/24/2019
Time: 07:11 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I work in a landscape yard so naturally I see a lot of critters. This one was new for me.

We have a plant called helichrysum icicles that were covered in little busted open, poop-filled, fuzzy tents and these caterpillars wander aimlessly on the plants. Best I can tell, they are Painted Lady, but I am uncertain.

How do you want your letter signed:  Karin

 

American Lady Caterpillar

Dear Karin,
In our opinion, you have the correct genus but not the correct species.  We believe this is an American Lady Caterpillar,
Vanessa virginiensis, based on this BugGuide image, and not a Painted Lady Caterpillar, Vanessa cardui, which is also pictured on BugGuide.

 

American Lady Caterpillars

Thank you so much! They didn’t seem to be doing anything destructive, thankfully.

Letter 12 – American Lady Caterpillars and Chrysalis

Dear Bugman,
I’ve enclosed 2 photos of caterpillars. Are they the same or different? They were both on my licorice plant in my window boxes on my back deck this summer.

Voracious eaters! (I had several) They have black ‘droppings’, and they spin a small web-like area in the leaves to hide out in. They munched down big time, then after a few days, there were cocoons nearly the color of the leaves.

I’ve enclosed a picture of one. I think they are American Painted Ladies, but not sure. Can you help? Thanks! I am in Northcentral CT, btw.

Susan

Hi Susan,
You are correct. These are American Lady Caterpillars, Vanessa virginiensis. They are highly variable caterpillars, but the two white spots per segment are a distinctive marking. By the way, we are unsure of the exact species of the moth in your other email.

Letter 13 – American Lady rescued from light!!!

American Lady butterfly?
Location: Barnegat, NJ
May 9, 2012 8:20 pm
Hey guys!
I ”saved” this butterfly from our kitchen light on 5/7/12, and think it’s an ”American Lady” butterfly. I’m attaching 2 quick photos I took of it before it flew away. Am I correct?
Signature: Thy Cavagnaro

 

American Lady

Dear Thy,
We just love tagging postings with Bug Humanitarian Award, which you deserve for rescuing what is most assuredly an American Lady. 

You can distinguish the American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis,  from the other members of the genus by, according to BugGuide

“Below (ventral surface of wings): two large eyespots” and “Dorsal wing surfaces: If present (it isn’t always–see below), a white dot in the orange of the forewing distinguishes American Lady from the Painted Lady.

Another easy-to-see character is the falcate (notched) wing-tip of the American Lady. In the Painted Lady the wing-tip is rounded.”

 

American Lady

Hi Daniel,
Cool, and thanks! 🙂 I posted it on your FB page, too, and had called it the American Lady on there, so glad I was correct.
LOOOOVE your sites! 🙂
Thy

That is so cool Thy.  Please don’t think less of us if we admit we do not visit the Facebook page.  We are happy you sent the photos to our ten-year-old website.

Letter 14 – American Painted Lady

PAINTED LADY IN CONNECTICUT (MAYBE) (10-21-07)
Hello, Daniel!
Well, I was thrilled to think I photographed my first-ever painted lady. I’m puzzled, however, because this pretty butterfly, found yesterday, in a Connecticut garden, does not quite match the painted lady pictures shown on your site.

A variation, perhaps? Many thanks!
Susan B. Naumann

Hi Susan,
This is a different species of Lady, the American Painted Lady, Vanessa virginiensis. BugGuide has an excellent upper wing comparison with the cosmopolitan Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui.

There are two large “eyespots” on the undersurface of the lower wing of the American Painted Lady.

Letter 15 – American Painted Lady

Butterfly ID request
Tue, Oct 14, 2008 at 5:01 AM
There have been many of these in the area in September, although similar to Monarchs, they don’t appear the same.
cneal
North Carolina

American Painted Lady

 

American Painted Lady

Hi cneal,
Your butterfly is an American Painted Lady, Vanessa Virginiensis. BugGuide has a nice set of images that explain how to differentiate between the American Painted Lady and the Cosmopolitan, the Painted Lady with a world wide distribution.

Letter 16 – American Lady Caterpillar

Subject: Caterpillar Identification
Location: Kalamazoo Michigan
July 13, 2016, 6:37 pm
This little guy and a couple of friends are eating my plants in a flowering pot
Signature: Jack

American Lady Caterpillar

 

American Lady Caterpillar

Dear Jack,
This beautiful caterpillar is an American Lady Caterpillar, and according to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on Cudweeds, Everlastings and Pussytoes –
Gnaphalium, Anaphalis, Antennaria.” 

 BugGuide also notes that other names for the American Lady are “Hunter’s Butterfly” and “Dama dos ojos” in Spanish.

Thanks, Daniel. I will make an extra effort to protect them. Butterflies are a spectacular creation.
Have a great day.

Letter 17 – Mating Silver Spotted Skippers and American Painted Lady

what are these beautiful butterflies
July 27, 2009
Hi Bug man,
I was hoping you could help with the names of these 4 beautiful butterflies
They are so beautiful with their painted-on faces and designs.

The love bugs are so cool looking God did great work making all these bugs
And it’s great to have a site like this to know what they all are.

Thank you
Sandy
eastern pa

American Painted Lady

 

American Painted Lady

Hi Sandy,
Your first photograph is of an American Painted Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, also known as a Hunter’s Butterfly.  You may read more about this spirited butterfly on BugGuide

The mating butterflies are Silver Spotted Skippers, Epargyreus clarus.  Skippers are considered butterflies, but many texts classify them as somewhere between butterflies and moths in terms of their evolution. 

They are classified in the superfamily Hesperioidea and the other butterflies are placed in the superfamily Papilionoidea.  You may read more about Silver Spotted Skippers on BugGuide as well. 

Your third butterfly is one of the greater Fritillaries, but the angle of view will not allow easy identification.

Mating Silver Spotted Skippers

 

Mating Silver Spotted Skippers

Letter 18 – Painted Ladies in Turkey

Subject: a butterfly in Turkey
Location: Bolu, Turkey
May 1, 2016, 7:51 am
Hi there! I hope you can help me identify this butterfly I saw in the garden of a school. I was in Bolu, Turkey and it was just a couple of days ago, a warm April day.

At first, I thought it was ‘Sultan’ (Danaus chrysippus) but I’m not an expert so I’m not sure.

Signature: Şevval Seçkin

Painted Ladies

 

Painted Ladies

Dear Şevval,
Though your image does not have very high resolution, and the two butterflies are quite far away, we are certain they are Painted Ladies,
Vanessa cardui, a cosmopolitan species that is known for mass migrations.

Letter 19 – Painted Lady

Butterfly photo
This photo was taken in Glacier National Park, Montana, in August 2005. What type of butterfly is it? Is it a really common butterfly that is all over the US or is it more common in a certain area? (I’m from Florida).

I compared it to the photos on your website and it looks like the photo of a painted lady…is that right? Anything interesting you can tell me about it?

Jaime

Hi Jaime,
You are absolutely correct. This is a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. It is sometimes called the Cosmopolitan as it is the butterfly with the most worldwide distribution. This is also a migratory species, though not as well known as the Monarch.

It yearly migrates from northern Mexico in huge impressive swarms to repopulate the western U.S.

Letter 20 – Painted Lady

Painted Lady
It’s not often you see a photo of a painted lady with its wings splayed out. The resolution on this photo is high and the colors are stunning. I had to do a little chasing to finally get this picture, but it was worth it.

Nadjia

Hi again Nadjia,
We were only going to post a couple of your images, but there are some very nice ones. We applaud your diligence in capturing this Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui.

In California, we have West Coast Ladies that often migrate in huge numbers in the spring. This year’s desert bloom brought out millions of them. It was very impressive to see.

Letter 21 – Painted Lady

Buckeye?
Hi,
I photographed this interesting butterfly yesterday on my butterfly bush in Northern New Jersey. Could you please tell me the species? Thanks so much. BTW< Love your site!
Deb Potter
Wyckoff, N.J.

Hi Deb,
Nice photo of a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, also called the Cosmopolitan for its worldwide distribution. Not as well known as the Monarch, these butterflies also migrate. The larval food plant is thistle.

Letter 22 – Painted Lady

Identification of butterfly
To whom it may concern:
2) Also, could you give me the name of the butterfly, seen in Rustler’s Park in the Chiracauhua mountains, also in Portal, ARIZONA? I have attached an image of both sides of the butterfly. Thank you very much for your help!
Irene Kitzman MD
Portal, AZ and Hamden, CT

Hi Irene,
What wonderful photos of the Painted Lady you have supplied to our website. The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, is a migratory species that often forms impressive swarms.

We are relatively confident with this identification, but it might be a closely related species, the West Coast Lady, Vanessa Annabella.

Letter 23 – Painted Lady


Attached is a picture I took on 11/09/07.

I’m in NW Ohio and the temperature was in the 50’s. I looked at your site to try to determine if this was a butterfly or a moth. I guess previously I was under the impression that moths had feathery antennae, but evidently, that’s not so.

At any rate, I thought this one was dead, as it sat for several minutes while I took pictures, but then it moved. I guess it was just sunning itself. I would appreciate knowing what it is. Thanks so much for your help.

Nada Knauss

Hi Nada,
This is a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, also known as The Cosmopolitan due to its near worldwide distribution. BugGuide has a nice wing comparison that will help one distinguish the Painted Lady from a closely related species, the American Painted Lady.

Letter 24 – Painted Lady

Late Season Painted Lady
Location: Ancaster
November 16, 2010 10:55 am

In search of the sun on my face, a chat with my best friend, and some caffeine, serendipity, as if it were a driving force, had me sitting on my front step, enjoying the bright sun, good company, and a mug of coffee when I spotted this butterfly out of the corner of my eye.
All the flowering plants in my garden are done, wilted, or brown now except for this particular Chrysanthemum that I took from my Mum’s garden years ago.

The ’mum often doesn’t start to show color until after the first frost but with the long growing season this year, it colored a little earlier and is now in full splendid bloom and will likely wilt of natural causes rather than being offed by a killing frost.

It’s a bright spot in my front yard as the trees are all bare and all other flowers are gone. It’s one of my favorite plants in my garden and has a lovely sweet Chrysanthemum scent that I wish I could share with you.

The Painted Lady was drinking in a leisurely fashion and didn’t seem to mind my presence and I got some very close-up shots of her eyes and proboscis as she drank.

These photos were taken Nov 8th. and I thought I would share this lovely splash of color and beauty, likely the last we’ll get in this area.

It’s amazing to think of all the little moments and events that had to occur in precisely the right way to bring myself, the flower, and the butterfly all together to get these images. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Signature: Cheryl-Anne

 

Painted Lady

Hi Cheryl-Anne,
We are very happy to post your photos of a Painted Lady,
Vanessa cardui, and your wonderful letter is a treat.

Letter 25 – Painted Lady

Subject: Painted, American or West Coast Lady?
Location: West Los Angeles
October 6, 2012, 4:42 pm
Hi Bugman,
This smallish butterfly has been visiting lately. I have a guidebook that shows three very similar butterflies: Painted Lady, American Lady, and West Coast Lady. Is the pictured butterfly one of these?

Thx, Jeff
Signature: Jeff Bremer

 

Painted Lady

Hi Jeff,
This is, in our opinion, a Painted Lady,
Vanessa Cardui.  We observed at least four individuals this morning in the northeast portion of Los Angeles in Elyria Canyon Park. 

They were nectaring on Baccharis.  We photographed at least two individuals and we are planning on posting some images soon. 

According to BugGuide, the main visual differences between the American Lady and the Painted Lady are a “tiny white spot on the American Lady” which is absent on your individual, and the number of eyespots on the underwings which your photo does not illustrate. 

Another difference is the “squared-off wingtip of the American Lady versus the rounded wingtip of the Painted Lady” and your individual has the rounded wingtip. 

The differences between the Painted Lady and the West Coast Lady are also covered on BugGuide which states: 

“The most obvious character that separates this [West Coast Lady] from the very similar Painted Lady, is the large subapical bar near the front of the forewing, which is orange on this species (left) and white in The Painted Lady – V. cardui (right).” 

Your individual has the white bar indicating that it is a Painted Lady.

Letter 26 – Painted Lady

Subject: Painted Lady Butterfly?
Location: Coryell County
August 14, 2014 9:34 am
This is beautiful – and quick!- butterfly visited our pentas as I was watering them this morning. It tended to feed upside-down, perhaps to show its eyespots to the world. Is it a Painted Lady?

If so, it’s the first I’ve photographed in our yard. It has such beautiful colors! I darkened the exposure a bit.

Warm, sunny morning today.
Thank you!
Signature: Ellen

Painted Lady

 

Painted Lady

Dear Ellen,
We agree that this is a Painted Lady,
Vanessa cardui.  There are several other butterflies in the genus that look quite similar, and this excellent comparison from BugGuide illustrates the difference between the Painted Lady and the American Lady. 

We are thrilled that you were able to capture views of both the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the wings.

Painted Lady

 

Painted Lady

Letter 27 – Painted Lady

Subject: Moth/Butterfly/?
Location: Orange County, CA
November 4, 2016, 8:01 pm
Hello,
I was walking around outside my work when I saw this winged creature. It looks like it is half monarch half wood nymph butterfly but I cannot find anything online that looks like this.
I thought it looked really cool.
Thank you for your help!
Signature: Danielle Cook

Painted Lady

 

Painted Lady

Dear Danielle,
By comparing your image to this BugGuide image, you can verify that your butterfly is a Painted Lady,
Vanessa cardui.  According to BugGuide:  “Similar to the also common American Lady.

The wings look more “rounded” in overall shape in American Lady, and the outer margin of front wing is more excavated/concave in American Lady.

Upper front wing with large subapical oblong spot near front margin always white in Painted Lady; can be white or orange in American Lady. Five small, instead of two large eye spots on the under hind wing.”

Thank you so much! I looked at pictures but am not good enough at spotting minor differences so I couldn’t discern exactly what type it was.

I appreciate your help!

Letter 28 – Painted Lady

Subject: Checkerspot? Crescent? Neither?
Location: Tonasket WA
July 28, 2017 7:04 am
Wish I could have gotten the upper sides of the wings, but the darn thing flew so fast, didn’t want me near it, and only fed with its wings up. The upper sides were a whole bunch of bright dark orange with black pattern lines.

Sneaking up on some butterflies is right up there with Ninja skills! It’s on a Gloriosa Daisy, and quite hot here, 90’s during the day, but 50s at night. We have a year-round creek, well treed, about 1/4 mile from us.

Our bushes and trees are chokecherries, serviceberry, pine, fir, wild roses, and red and black currant. Willows and elms on the creek. The average rainfall is less than 20″ a year, and winters can get to 20 below.

Last winter was a really cold one. I’m surprised anything made it. My favorite part of this butterfly is its antenna! In the sun they looked like fiber optic wands. The white part really glowed.

The closest I could see it looked like was a Silver Checkerspot, but the eyespots on the hindwing are really the wrong colors, and the range for the silvers is the east, not the west. And then I got led to the Crescents…

So I’m plenty stumped. Please feel free to edit my pic for posting. Thanks to everyone (submitters and staff) for this wonderful site. Tremendously informative, often amusing and the pictures are a real treat.

Signature: Cathy

 

Painted Lady

Dear Cathy,
Your image is quite lovely.  This is neither a Checkerspot nor a Crescent.  This is one of the Ladies in the genus
Vanessa, and had you been able to get an image of the open wings, it would have made our identification more definite. 

We believe this is a Painted Lady, as you can see by comparing your image to this BugGuide image, and not a West Coast Lady, and the difference is described on BugGuide as: 

“The most obvious character that separates this from the very similar Painted Lady, is the large subapical bar near the front of the forewing, which is orange on this species [ed. note speaking of the West Coast Lady] and white in The Painted Lady.”

Though the wings on your individual are closed, the subapical bar in question does appear to be white.

Letter 29 – Painted Lady Caterpillar

Subject:  hundreds of caterpillars
Geographic location of the bug:  Summerville, Northeastern Oregon
Date: 06/25/2019
Time: 03:42 PM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman:  We awoke to hundreds of these caterpillars on the hollyhocks and crawling in the yard.
How you want your letter signed:  Bob

 

Painted Lady Caterpillar

Dear Bob,
Knowing the plant upon which an insect is feeding is often a tremendous assistance in identification, so we quickly located this BugGuide image of a Painted Lady,
Vanessa cardui, caterpillar on Hollyhocks, and it looks like your individual. 

The Painted Lady is one of the most wide-ranging butterfly species on the planet and it is sometimes called the Cosmopolitan, but interestingly, in the 17 years we have maintained What’s That Bug?, we cannot locate a single another image in our nearly 27,000 unique postings (26,988 to be exact) of a Painted Lady Caterpillar, though the genus is well represented with caterpillar images of the American Lady, Virginia Lady, and Red Admiral. 

Since the species is so wide-ranging, the caterpillar must have a more varied diet than some very localized species that feed on a single plant or genus of plants.  According to BugGuide

“Caterpillars feed primarily on Asteraceae and Malvaceae, especially Thistles, Burdock, and Hollyhocks. Many other plants are used occasionally, including Nettle, Alfalfa, Soy Bean, Beet, Borage, Plantain, etc.” 

Painted Ladies are prone to mass migrations some years, and it was selected as our Bug of the Month for March 2015.

thanks so much. They are feeding on the hollyhocks and then once on the ground, they all seem to be crawling north.  it is interesting!  Bob

Letter 30 – Painted Lady in Mount Washington

Painted Lady nectars from Zinnia
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, CA
August 20, 2012
Though we spent about two hours today trying unsuccessfully to get a high-resolution image of a Western Tiger Swallowtail, we are pleased with these photos of a Painted Lady,
Vanessa cardui, that enjoyed the nectar from a zinnia.

 

Painted Lady

Upon closely examining the photos, we were able to determine that this was a Painted Lady as opposed to a West Coast Lady.  According to BugGuide

“Also similar is West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, but Painted Lady has the large subapical spot near front edge of front wing white; the discal cell of front wing has two (roughly) triangular dark spots; and dark spots on the upper hind wing are most often not or only faintly centered with blue (blue centers more common in the Southwest than elsewhere).

In West Coast Lady the oblong spot is a bit larger and orange; there is a dark bar crossing discal cell; and dark spots on the hind wing above are usually prominently centered with blue.

Undersides are very similar, but the same pattern differences show on under front wing as on upper side, and eye spots on the hind wing are usually round or oval in the Painted Lady, while at least some are usually heart or kidney-shaped in West Coast Lady.

Orange coloring of West Coast Lady less likely to look pinkish than in other two Lady species (where the hue is more varied).”

 

Painted Lady

Letter 31 – Painted Lady sunning in Elyria Canyon Park

November 1, 2014
Location:  Elyria Canyon Park, Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
This past weekend, while planting native wildflowers in Elyria Canyon Park, I couldn’t resist taking a few images of this lovely Painted Lady.

Painted Lady

 

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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