Eggs are pale green, placed one by one on the uppersides of leaves. The caterpillars vary in color, they are grayish-brown or darker, and darker at each end than in the middle. They have a yellow stripe down the back and along each side, and many spines on their back and sides. The pupa can also be different colors, metallic-greenish, or bluish-white, or brown. Adult Painted Lady Butterflies have speckled wings with brown, black, red and white markings. The upper side has more red and sometimes pink or orange, the underside is more brown and black. The forewings have a white bar, and the hindwing has a row of 5 tiny black dots. When the wings are folded, they appear camouflaged.
This is one of the most common butterfly species in the world. The only places it doesn't live are on Antarctica and some remote islands. It even migrates to Hawaii and Iceland!
Painted Lady Butterflies are found almost anywhere, but they prefer brightly lit and open environments like clover fields, flowery meadows and hilly country.
Females lay eggs on the plants their babies will eat. The caterpillars that hatch out feed continuously and molt several times. After a few weeks they transform into a pupa, go through a complete metamorphosis, and emerge as an adult butterfly. The timing of this depends on the climate, the warmer it is the faster they grow.
In the temperate zone, reproductive behavior stops in the fall, but it may go on year-round in warmer climates.
Lifespan depends on the climate, but is probably never more than one winter. Only adults survive through winter, and even then only in mild climates.
Many Painted Lady butterflies migrate: every year great numbers of them fly north in the spring and summer, and then return in the fall.
The caterpillars of this species prefer the leaves of plants in the daisy family (Compositaceae) especially thistles, but can eat many different kinds of plants. Adult painted ladies sip nectar from flowers, and sometimes take "honeydew" from aphids (See Aphids).
Adult painted ladies' main defenses are flight and camouflage. The caterpillars hide in small silk nests on top of leaves, and may have chemical defenses, but this is uncertain.
These are such common butterflies that they need no special conservation efforts.
Painted Lady Butterflies are also known as Thistle Butterflies because of their strong liking for thistles. They are also known as the Cosmopolitan because they are found around the world.
Marie S. Harris (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Opler, Paul A. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.
Sheilds, O. World Distribution of of the Vanessa Cardui group. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 46(6):235-238.
Shull, Ernest M.. The Butterflies of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, 1987.