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Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)


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



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Image Credit: Nathan L. from Warwick, RI
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Image Credit: Jerry Gildemeister
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Image Credit: Paul and Kellie T. taken in West Tulsa County, OK
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A commonly seen native butterfly ranging across the entire continent, the flashy Painted Lady is as pretty as its name suggests.



Updated: 10/05/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Millions of Painted Ladies migrate each summer from the warm southern region of the continent to the cooler northern provinces. Sometimes, they move en masse, delighting onlookers. Many generations can be produced each year, with more in of them in warmer climates. In areas of mild winters, this species can remain active all year. This popular native butterfly is welcomed and admired in all three nations of North America.

Painted Ladies are a myriad of colors and patterns. With wings flat, an overall rosy-orange and black color combination predominates. Small black eyespots border the hindwings' edges. White spots contrast on the black wing tips. Dark pink or red surrounds a black dot near the upper edge of the forewings. When wings are raised up, a completely different color scheme presents itself. The underside of the wings are brown and white with sneaks of orange and pink. The edge of each hindwing has four similar-sized blue and yellow eyespots. Adults drink flower nectar and are often seen on asters. Males actively search for females to mate with. Females lay fertilized eggs on the leaves of host plants.

Caterpillars have dark or black bodies that are studded with yellowish spines, each with black-tipped spiky hairs. Two thin yellow lines run down the dorsal (back) side. The preferred food for Painted Lady caterpillars are thistles - a tough, spiky plant that grows well in weedy areas and meadows. They also eat the leaves of mallows, hollyhock, and burdock plants, sometimes foraging into crops.




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




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: cardui
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vanessa cardui
Other Name(s): Cosmopolitan, Thistle Butterfly
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 50mm to 73mm (1.96" to 2.87")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown, orange, white, black, pink, tan, blue, yellow
Descriptors: spots, eyespots, rose, pink, multicolored, flying

Painted-Lady-Butterfly Video(s)




A Painted Lady getting dropped off on a nectar-laden lantana flower.
A Painted Lady flexing her wings.
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 50mm and 73mm
Lo: 50mm
Md: 61.5mm
Hi: 73mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
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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 Painted 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 Painted Lady Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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