That’s no Monarch!
The Painted Lady Butterfly — Vanessa cardui — is one of the most widely distributed species of butterfly. They can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica and Australia. Painted Ladies — which live about one year, from egg to death — live in areas with wide open areas of plants such as fields and meadows, though they can adjust to living in almost any habitat.
The butterfly claims many plant hosts in the Asteraceae — including aster, daisy and sunflower — and Malvaceae — including okra, cotton and hibiscus — families, according to Raymond Cloyd, Ph.D., entomologist at Kansas State University.
The early life stages of the Painted Lady Butterfly can be cause for concern for some farmers, as the thistle caterpillars are defoliators in soybean. However, rarely do thistle caterpillars reach a threshold at which insecticidal treatment is needed.
Adult butterflies, which live for about 10 to 24 days after emerging from their cocoons, range from 5.1 to 7.3 centimeters in length The upper side of their wings are reddish-orange and brown patterned, with a white bar on the front wings and a row of five tiny black dots on the back wings. The underside of their wings have brown, black and gray patterns with tiny spots.
This reddish-orange and brown coloration may cause many to mistake the Painted Lady for a Monarch butterfly.
“There is a row of small eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, which distinguishes it from other butterflies including the Monarch butterfly,” Cloyd said. “The reddish coloration on the wings varies with the age of the butterflies.”
The Painted Lady Butterfly is migratory, Cloyd said, overwintering in the southern United State and Mexico.
Every year, Painted Lady butterflies migrate from these southern locations to the northern United States and Canada and back again. In the spring, they begin moving north as the temperatures become too warm. Along the way, they mate and reproduce.
Since most adult butterflies do not live more than a month, it is not just one generation of butterfly that makes this migration. Instead, it is their offspring and their offsprings’ offspring that make the journey.
“The Painted Lady Butterfly has two generations per year in Kansas,” Cloyd said.
They reach the northern parts of Europe and North America during the summer, when temperatures are right for the butterflies. They continue to reproduce, and then they start flying back south in late summer and fall, when temperatures become too cold in the north.
Amber Deters146 Posts
Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.