Everything About Painted Lady

Painted Lady

A picture of a Painted Lady
Photo by:
Patti Murray/
Animals Animals or Earth Scenes
Painted Lady (butterfly), also known as the thistle butterfly and the cosmopolite, common name for the most widespread and perhaps most abundant butterfly species in the world. The painted lady lives in open, sunny areas-especially fields, vacant lots, and gardens-in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The wings of the painted lady are about 5 cm (about 2 in) across. The upper surfaces are orange with black blotches and black margins while the undersides are rosy pink with black and white patterns. The hind wings sometimes have small, blue eyespots.

The painted lady feeds on nectar from the flowers of thistles, red clover, asters, and many other plants. Unlike many butterflies, it does not become dormant during the winter and cannot survive heavy frosts or colder conditions; thus it must spend its winters in warmer climates. The painted lady is famous for its extensive mass migrations. During the spring it migrates northward, sometimes in huge numbers, flying 3 to 4 m (10 to 14 ft) above the ground. The number of painted ladies in a single migration have been estimated at over 300 million, although these numbers vary dramatically from year to year for reasons that are not well understood. During the spring and summer, painted ladies migrate from North Africa to northern Finland, and from Mexico to northern Canada and Alaska, repopulating much of the northern hemisphere in only a few months. The painted lady's specific means of orientation and navigation over these long migrations remains a mystery to biologists.

Like all butterflies, the painted lady has four life stages: egg, caterpillar (wormlike larva), cocoon, and winged adult. The female lays her green eggs one at a time on the leaves of plants that will later provide food for the caterpillar, such as thistles, mallows, or peas. The increasing abundance of thistles in ecologically disturbed areas has likely contributed to the increasing abundance of painted ladies. In some areas, the caterpillars are minor pests on soybeans, sunflowers, and other crops. The caterpillars are covered with short spines and quite variable in color, but they are often greenish-yellow with black patterns.

Scientific classification: The painted lady butterfly is a member of the brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae and is classified as Vanessa cardui. The species name cardui is derived from the Latin word for thistle, the preferred food plant for this butterfly's caterpillars.

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