American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) (Drury, 1773)

Diagnosis: A medium-sized (wingspan: 37 to 56 mm) tawny-orange and brown butterfly on the upperside, this species has blue centres in several of the black submarginal spots on the hindwings. The underside has a very complex pattern with two large eyespots towards the outer margin of the hindwings.

Range: The American Lady ranges from Central America throughout most of the continent north to Newfoundland, L'Anse-au-Clair in southeastern Labrador, Lac-Albanel, Quebec, and Churchill, Manitoba. There are a few records from Saskatchewan north to Deschambault Lake, three records from Alberta and three from British Columbia. It has been recorded several times on Sable Island, 160 km off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Specimen collection data

Similar Species: The Painted Lady (V. cardui) and the West Coast Lady (V. annabella) have more numerous and smaller eyespots on the hindwing underside. [compare images]

Description of this image follows.
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis), pupa. T. Arcand

Early Stages: Like the adult, the larva has a complex pattern. It is black with white or yellow cross bands and a row of wide spots on the sides. The black spines have a red base. It feeds on a number of plants in the Asteraceae, including everlastings and cudweeds (Gnaphalium, Antennaria, and Anaphalis spp.).

Abundance: The American Lady is fairly common in most of eastern Canada, where it can be expected most years, but it is rare in the west and in Newfoundland.

Description of this image follows.
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis). South March, Ont. P.W. Hall

Flight Season: This butterfly usually migrates into Canada in May. The second and third generations are seen from June to September.

Habits: As with most migratory butterflies, this species can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including roadsides, old fields, meadows, and forest clearings. It is fast flying and often alights on flowers and other objects with its wings spread.

Remarks: The American Lady is more cold-tolerant than the Painted Lady. It is not clear if this species is capable of overwintering in Canada, although it may in the more southern parts of the country.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.