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Painted Lady Butterfly

Vanessa cardui (aka Thistle Butterfly, Cosmopolite)

Painted Lady Butterfly


The painted lady has a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches. Its pointed forewing bears a distinct white bar, and its hindwing has a submarginal row of 5 tiny black dots. The upperside is orange with rose-like overtones; the underside is a mottled gray, brown, and black.

Distribution and Habitat

One of the most widely distributed of the butterflies, the painted lady is found everywhere in the world except South America, the Arctic, and Australia. It is usually found in brightly lit and open environments, preferring clover fields, flowery meadows, and hilly country.

Life Cycle

Painted ladies breed year round in the tropics, and in the spring and summer in cooler climates. One green, barrel-shaped egg is laid at a time, on a plant upon which the caterpillar will eat. Time from hatching to adulthood varies by climate, with the process being faster in warmer weather.

painted lady caterpillar

Adult males tend to perch on plants to establish and defend a territory, but they never perch on a species of plant upon which larvae feed.

Some populations migrate south when the weather gets cooler, but this is not universal. The spring may bring a northerly return of adult painted ladies, with millions moving through a given region over a span of 7 to 8 weeks.


Larval and adult painted ladies feed on over 100 different kinds of plants, with a particular fondness for thistles.

Scientific Classification

phylum Arthropoda
class Insecta
order Lepidoptera
family Nymphalidae
genus & species Vanessa cardui

Animal Diversity Web

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Insects >> Order Lepidoptera

This page was last updated on June 21, 2017.