Painted ladies have the distinction of being the most widely distributed butterflies in the world. Because of their wide range, another common name for painted ladies is cosmopolitans.
The West Coast painted lady, one of three or four species found in the United States, is found in open spaces west of the Rockies during the summer. It winters in Central and South America. The scientific name, Vanessa annabella, is so pretty and appropriate for a “lady”.
The West Coast painted lady has a dorsal pattern of orange and black. The underwings are dull in color. A bar on the dorsal side below the wing tip of V. annabella is orange while this subapical bar on other painted lady species is white. When resting, painted ladies hold their wings flat.
Also called a thistle butterfly, painted ladies frequent flowers, particularly thistles and mallows, feeding on the nectar during their two week life.
Painted ladies have the four life stages typical of butterflies. The eggs, mint green and barrel shaped, are laid singly on a host plant. After 3 to 5 days the larvae hatch from the eggs. The larvae voraciously feed on the leaves of the host plant for 12 to 18 days before forming a pupae or cocoon. The larvae go through 5 instars, stages between moults. At first the larvae are worm-like with gray bodies and live in webs that they build on the host leaves. During later instars the larvae are darker in color with orange and white mottling and spines. The final instar is lighter and retains its spines. After 10 days the pupa metamorphosizes into the painted lady butterfly, which begins the cycle again when the female lays her eggs.
This West Coast painted lady was on the peonies near our front door (Lookout CA).