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What is a Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

The painted lady butterfly is partially hidden in a lavender Mojave Aster flower

What is a Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady Butterfly Overview

The Painted Lady Butterfly is a medium-sized butterfly that is considered to be the most widely distributed butterfly on Earth living on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. In order to reach every corner of the globe, you need to be quick and the Painted Lady Butterfly is just that. These butterflies have been clocked in flying at nearly 30 mph and can fly up to 100 miles in a single day during their migrations.   

The migration pattern the Painted Lady Butterfly takes isn’t really a pattern as they tend to be highly unpredictable and erratic. It is suggested that they migrate based on the weather rather than seasons chasing down areas that have experienced heavy rains. Part of the reason why this has been suggested is that these butterflies don’t migrate every year. To make things even weirder, Painted Lady Butterflies don’t always migrate north to south or south to north like most animals. For instance, Painted Lady Butterflies have been seen migrating north to the northwest in California. Their migration pattern seems almost fluid as they head in a certain direction, but allow weather or mountains to push them into another direction without over-correcting.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Vanessa
  • Species: V. cardui

Size and Body Description

Painted Lady Butterflies are medium in size and will have a brown-orange colored front wing with dark or black coloration towards the outside edges near the top. In the black section of their front wing, white spots can be seen that are symmetrical on either side. The underside of the front wing will carry over some of the orange and black colors and keep the pattern displayed on the top.

Their rear wings are the same brown-orange color with black spots towards the edge of the wing near the rear. Their rear wings will also have a white border that is broken up by black splotches. The underside of the rear wing looks to be marbled with patterns that are pale orange, white, black, and even blue in color. Like the front wings, the patterns tend to follow the same shape as the top side of the wing.


Painted Lady Butterflies will have a wingspan of around 2 to 2.5 inches in length.

A butterfly is known as a Painted Lady feeding on a yellow wildflower in Arizona.


Adult Painted Lady Butterflies will feed on nectar like thistle, aster, and blazing star plants as well as honeydew produced by aphids. As caterpillars, they will eat from a wide variety of plant leaves depending on where they are laid. I would make a list of plants you can find them on but that list is nearly 300 species long so it’s safe to say, they eat just about anything in your area. A known favorite would be something like thistle or hollyhock.


Mating season for the Painted Lady Butterfly is year-round, even mating in the winter. These butterflies will mate during migration and female butterflies will lay their eggs indiscriminately on plants that may cause their eggs to die. It is suggested that they lay their eggs based on the food that is available to the adult rather than for the safety or viability of the eggs. 


Being the most widely distributed butterfly means that the Painted Lady Butterfly is basically everywhere, baring extremely cold climates and Australia. In the United States, they are found in every state. 

How Long do Painted Lady Butterflies Live

Painted Lady Butterflies have a pretty standard life expectancy of around 2 to 4 months from egg to death.


As of writing this, the Painted Lady Butterfly is not a protected species. They are everywhere.

References Used

What is a Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)