Vanessa cardui
va-NES-uhmm CARD-ewe-ee
(Linnaeus, 1758) Papilio cardui

Vanessa cardui, Pennsylvania, courtesy of Leroy Simon.

Superfamily: Papilionoidea Latreille, [1802]
Family: Nymphalidae Rafinesque, 1815
Subfamily: Nymphalinae Rafinesque, 1815
Tribe: Nymphalini Rafinesque, 1815
Genus: Vanessa Fabricius, 1807

Website designed and maintained
by Bill Oehlke
Box 476, Montague
Prince Edward Island, Canada C0A 1R0
oehlkew@islandtelecom.com

Distribution:

The The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui; wingspan: 2 - 2 7/8 inches (5.1 - 7.3 cm)), also known as the Thistle Butterfly because of the caterpillars' food preference and as the Cosmopolitan because it is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world, flies almost everywhere, especially in open or disturbed areas including gardens, old fields, dunes on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

From the deserts of northern Mexico, the Painted Lady migrates and temporarily colonizes the United States and Canada south of the Arctic. Occasionally, population explosions in Mexico will cause massive northward migrations.

There are populations on the Hawaiian Islands.

Vanessa cardui, Peterborough, Ontario, October 13, 2004, courtesy of Tim Dyson copyright.

Description:

The upperside is orange-brown with darker wing bases. The forewing has a black apex patch with a white bar on the leading edge along with some white spots. The hindwing submarginal row has five small black spots sometimes with blue scales.

The underside has a black, brown, and gray pattern with five small submarginal eyespots on the hindwing.

The orange area of the dorsal forewing is mapped onto the underside, but is frequently hidden by the hindwing while the butterfly perches.

Image from Johnson Ridge, Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Snohomish County, WAshington, 7.8.2001, Photo Markku Savela

Flight time(s) and Adult Food Sources:

There are one to three flights in the East from May-October, and three to four flights in South Texas from October-April.

This species broods continuously where climate/weather permits.

The Painted Lady prefers nectar from composites 3-6 feet high, especially thistles. It is regaulary seen on asters, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Flowers from other families that are visited include red clover, buttonbush, privet and milkweeds.

Eggs, Larvae, Pupae:

Males perch and patrol during the afternoon, looking for receptive females. In the West, males usually perch on shrubs on hilltops, while in the East males perch on bare ground in open areas.

Females lay finely reticulated, green, barrel-shaped eggs singly on the tops of many host plant leaves.

More than one hundred larval host plants have been noted, but favorites include thistles (Asteraceae), hollyhock and mallow (Malvaceae), and various legumes (Fabaceae).

The caterpillars live in silk nests and eat foliage.

It was not difficult to find them in open fields on thistle in Pottersville, New Jersey. Their silk nests, often near the top of the plant, or at the juncture of leaf and stalk, were often messy with frass.

The color of the larva varies from chartreuse with black marbling to a purple with a yellow hue.

Vanessa cardui, courtesy of Jeffrey C. Miller,
Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team.

At maturity, larvae fasten their anal claspers via a silk pad to suitable strata, often the undersides of leaves.

The caterpillar then hangs in a "j-shape" and sheds its skin one last time to form the angular pupa or chrysalis.

Nine to fourteen days later the adult butterfly emerges.

Adults hibernate only in the South and can only survive mild winters.

Here on Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada, I only see the butterflies in late summer, probably at the northern end of their eastern migration.

Use your browser "Back" button to return to the previous page.

Visit other websites maintained by Bill Oehlke:

ARCTIIDAE (TIGER MOTHS)
SATURNIIDAE (SILK MOTHS) OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: rearing info.
SPHINGIDAE OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND (HAWK MOTHS)
SPHINGIDAE OF THE AMERICAS
KIRBY WOLFE COLLECTION OF WORLDWIDE SATURNIIDAE
THIBAUD DECAENS COLLECTION OF WORLDWIDE SATURNIIDAE
TIM DYSON NIGHT VISION PHOTOGRAPHY (Catocala)
NORTH AMERICAN CATOCALA

+++LIVESTOCK AND SUPPLIES FOR SALE***

This site is designed and maintained by Bill Oehlke. You can reach Bill for questions by clicking on his name (email) or by phone 902-838-3455, or at Bill Oehlke, Box 476, Montague, P.E.I., Canada C0A 1R0.

I offer two membership sites that far exceed the coverage offered on the sites listed above:

THE WORLD'S LARGEST SATURNIIDAE SITE and
CATERPILLARS TOO!

If you have enjoyed the pictures and information on this site, please click on the flashing butterfly icon to the right. This helps to promote this page so that others are more likely to see it. You will also be taken to a list of over one hundred other sites, featuring butterflies, moths or other insects. To return here, just close the new window that opens. Thankyou!