Painted Lady Butterfly

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Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted lady butterfly is one of the most commonly observed butterflies across the globe. Learn all about this beautiful creature in the following article.

Summer is the time when delicate wings flutter across the garden. Flower to flower, bud to bud, the colorful sparkles add life to a garden. One of the most delicate and peaceful creatures on earth is a butterfly. The attractive colors of a butterfly are vibrant enough to brighten up a dull day. One such butterfly is the painted lady butterfly. They belong to the Cynthia group that consists of the genus Vanessa of the family Nymphalidae. The painted lady butterfly is found in Asia, Africa, Europe and even the North American continent. These butterflies are not found in South America, Australia and the Arctic region.


The painted lady butterfly is named so due to the splashes of colors on its wings. The top of the wings are orange and brown in color. There is a white bar and small white spots on the black forewing. The lower part has a duller tone that is brown and gray in color. When it sits on a flower, you will observe its wings are folded together. The four, small eye spots on the hind wing are a prominent feature of this butterfly. Adult painted lady butterflies grow up to 5 to 6 centimeters in width. They have sensors on their wings that require sunlight to help them fly. This means they are sort of solar-powered creatures. Thus, diurnal in nature. Taste sensors present on their legs and tiny little scales on their wings give them their vibrant color.


The Cynthia group includes five colorful types of butterfly as follows:

  • Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi)
  • American (Painted) Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
  • The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
  • West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)

Of these, the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) is known as the Cosmopolitan in North America. It has a very strange pattern of flying. It flies in a type of screw shape. These butterflies are generally raised in school classrooms to help the children learn more about the butterfly life-cycle. Thus, they are very popular among kids.


The painted lady feeds on nectar from many plants. It loves the flowers of the Asteraceae plant family. Other plants favored by this butterfly include the aster, cosmos, blazing star, thistle, ironweed and joe-pye weed. The caterpillars too feed on thistle, hollyhock and many other plant varieties.

Habitat and Distribution

The painted lady loves open meadows and fields to stretch its wings. They do not mind fluttering over disturbed areas like the roadside or a sunny home garden with plenty of flowers to feed on. The V. cardui is the most commonly found butterfly in the world. It is found on all continents, except Antarctica and South America. It is found in Australia, but limited to certain areas. Its close relative the Australian painted lady is found all over Australia. V. annabella is found throughout western US and south-western Canada. The V. virginiensis is found all over N. America and loves to live in flowery habitats near mountains.

Life Cycle

Painted lady life-cycle includes complete metamorphosis in four stages, that is: egg, larva, pupa and adult. After two butterflies mate, the female will lay her eggs on a leaf, preferably the Malva leaf. These eggs are very tiny and green. They are as small as a sugar crystal and can be observed with the help of a magnifying glass. After about 3 to 5 days, the eggs hatch and the larvae emerge. It eats a lot of leaves and other plant matter. It molts several times before entering its chrysalis stage which is after 7 to 11 days approximately. The larvae produces silk threads that help attach it to the leaves during the chrysalis stage. You will find the molted skin as a dark speck lying near the caterpillar. The pupa has golden spots that helps to distinguish them from other pupa. After about 7 to 10 days the butterfly emerges. The butterfly will have a wingspan of about 2 inches. It will hang for about an hour on the leaf, till its wings dry and straighten out. It has two eyes made up of over 10,000 lenses and two antennae that help it in hearing and breathing. It travels about 1000 miles in its entire life span.

A graceful creature like butterfly is always welcome in any garden. They help pollinate flowers and disperse pollen hundreds of miles away. So, next time you spot a painted lady around you, do spare some time to enjoy its elegant beauty.

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