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Vanessa cardui

What do they look like?

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.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike

Where do they live?

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!

What kind of habitat do they need?

Painted Lady Butterflies are found almost anywhere, but they prefer brightly lit and open environments like clover fields, flowery meadows and hilly country.

How do they grow?

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.

How do they reproduce?

In the temperate zone, reproductive behavior stops in the fall, but it may go on year-round in warmer climates.

  • Breeding season
    All year in the tropics, spring and summer in cooler climates.
  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

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.

How do they behave?

Many Painted Lady butterflies migrate: every year great numbers of them fly north in the spring and summer, and then return in the fall.

What do they eat?

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).

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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.

Are they endangered?

These are such common butterflies that they need no special conservation efforts.

Some more information...

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.

Contributors

Marie S. Harris (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

chaparral

mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

taiga

this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tundra

A terrestrial biome found in very cold places -- either close to polar regions or high on mountains. Part of the soil stays frozen all year. Few kinds of plants grow here, and these are low mats or shrubs not trees. The growing season is short.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

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.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Harris, M. 1999. "Vanessa cardui" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Vanessa_cardui/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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