The painted lady (Vanessa cardui) is one of the most widely spread butterflies in the world, found in all continents except Australia and Antarctica. An irruptive migrant (migrates independent of seasonal or geographic patterns), the painted lady is capable of flying 30 miles per hour and can travel 100 miles a day. Their habitats include open grassland, roadsides and montane meadows.
Painted lady forewings are orange with black spots. They have a black apex patch and white subapical spots and a white bar on the leading edge. The hindwings have a submarginal row of five black spots, sometimes with blue scales. The wing undersides have a black, brown and grey pattern and 4 submarginal eyespots. Females lay eggs singly on top of host plants, which include thistles, lupines (legumes) and mallows. West coast painted lady (Vanessa annabella) looks almost identical to the painted lady differing only by no white apical bar on the upper surface of the forewing. (See “West Coast Painted Lady” 05-15-12)
Painted lady caterpillars (larvae) are black with small white spots. The base of the primary setae (spines) are orange and white hairs cover the entire body. The ventral side is grey with irregular black markings. The caterpillars weave silk tents, often on thistles, to pupate.
Painted lady butterflies do not overwinter in colder areas. Painted ladies in warmer areas are there due to migration.
This specimen was photographed between between the North and South Elkins Barns at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Lassen County CA).