Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) (Linnaeus, 1758)

Diagnosis: This medium-sized species (wingspan: 42 to 66 mm) has pointed wings and is salmon-pink in colour, with complicated dark markings on the upper surface. The hindwing spots near the margins of the upper hindwings are black with no blue centres. The complex underwing pattern has a row of five eyespots on the outer margin of the hindwing.

Range: This is probably the most cosmopolitan of all butterflies. It is found on all continents except Antarctica and South America. In Canada it is found from coast to coast and has been recorded north to the Ungava Peninsula in Quebec, Baker Lake, Nunavut, and Carmacks, Yukon.


Specimen collection data


Similar Species: The Painted Lady is similar to the American Lady (V. virginiensis) in the east and the West Coast Lady (V. annabella) in the west. The more pointed wings, pinkish-orange colour, and the lack of blue centres in the eyespots on the hindwing upperside differentiate the Painted Lady. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larvae are yellowish green or purple mottled with black. There are yellow spines and the head is black. They feed in leaf-nests on a wide variety of composites (Asteraceae), including thistles (Cirsium and Carduus spp.), knapweed (Centaurea spp.), burdocks (Arctium spp.), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), and wormwood (Artemisia spp.).

Abundance: In most years, this butterfly is rare in Canada. But periodically it appears in great numbers and migrates far north into Canada. The most northerly records are from these years of mass migration.

Flight Season: There are two or three generations in Canada, appearing first in May from the south, followed by locally emerging specimens that are seen from June to October.

Habits: The Painted Lady is highly tolerant of different habitats. It can be found in the deserts of southern British Columbia and on the tundra, as well as in heavily wooded areas. It is commonly a butterfly of waste areas and roadsides, as well as farmers' fields, areas where thistles abound.

Remarks: This butterfly does not normally overwinter in Canada, or even in the U.S., except possibly in the extreme southwest. However, a very fresh specimen was seen by PWH on 30 April 1983 at Ottawa, almost certainly one that had emerged from a pupa, following an unusually mild winter.

© 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.