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American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the American Lady Butterfly



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Image Credit: Arch Baker
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Image Credit: Alex -icycatelf- Bowen
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Image Credit: Arch Baker
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Image Credit: Troy D. taken in ME
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The American Lady's enormous geographic range covers all three countries on her continent - just not all at the same time of year.



Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The American Lady Butterfly is a member of the Brush-footed butterfly family. It is related to the Painted Lady, the Red Admiral and the West Coast Lady. The front legs are very short and covered with little hairs or bristles, like that of a hairbrush. Because their front legs are so short, they sometimes look as though they only have four legs.

The overhead and underneath coloring of this species is so different that one may think they are looking at two different butterflies. The dorsal (top side) of the forewings and hindwings are orange, black and white. There is a tiny white dot on the middle part of the orange forewing. The hindwings have a row of black dots near the bottom edge. The two largest of these have blue centers. These are most visible when the wings are spread open and flat. If the butterfly's wings are closed, one can see that its ventral side (underneath) is quite patterned. This side of the wings are a mosaic of gray, white and brown with a flash of bright pink on the forewings. The hindwings each have two large eyespots that are useful for identification.

This butterfly prefers sunny, open habitats like fields, canyons and meadows. In the summer months, they can be found in the southern parts of Canada and northern U.S.. Come winter, they migrate to the warmer weather in Mexico and the southern U.S..

Caterpillars of the American Lady eat cudweeds, everlastings, and plants in the aster family. Its body is tubular and black with thin, yellow bands that form rings around its body. Reddish-brown or white spots are interspersed between set of the yellow bands. Bristles protrude from those spotted areas of the body. Two or three generations of this species of butterfly can be born every year.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Pollinator insect icon


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Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Vanessa
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            Species: virginiensis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vanessa virginiensis
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 44mm to 54mm (1.73" to 2.12")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: white; black; brown; gray; orange; pink; blue
Descriptors: eyespots, lady, four legs, flying, pollinator
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Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 44mm (1.7in) and 54mm (2.1in)
Lo: 44mm
Md: 49mm
Hi: 54mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
State of Alabama graphic
State of Arizona graphic
State of Arkansas graphic
State of California graphic
State of Colorado graphic
State of Delware graphic
State of Florida graphic
State of Georgia graphic
State of Idaho graphic
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State of Indiana graphic
State of Iowa graphic
State of Kansas graphic
State of Kentucky graphic
State of Louisiana graphic
State of Maine graphic
State of Maryland graphic
State of Michigan graphic
State of Minnesota graphic
State of Mississippi graphic
State of Missouri graphic
State of Montana graphic
State of Nebraska graphic
State of Nevada graphic
State of New England graphic
State of New Jersey graphic
State of New Mexico graphic
State of New York graphic
State of North Carolina graphic
State of North Dakota graphic
State of Ohio graphic
State of Oklahoma graphic
State of Oregon graphic
State of Pennsylvania graphic
State of South Carolina graphic
State of South Dakota graphic
State of Tennessee graphic
State of Texas graphic
State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
State of West Virginia graphic
State of Wisconsin graphic
State of Wyoming graphic
Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the American Lady Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Lady Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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