Vanessa cardui

Geographic Range

The Painted Lady is found everywhere in the world except South America, the Arctic, and Australia.

Habitat

The Painted Lady is found almost anywhere, but they tend to inhabit brightly lighted and open environments. They prefer clover fields, flowery meadows and hilly country. Marshes, dunes, and thorn scrubs also attract the Painted Lady.

Physical Description

The Painted Lady has a pointed forewing which bears a distinct white bar. The hindwing has a submarginal row of 5 tiny black dots. The upperside of the freshly emerged butterfly is orange with rose-like overtones. The underside is a mottled gray, brown, and black.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike

Development

Females lay eggs on the plants their babies will eat. The caterpillars that hatch out feed continuously and molt several times. After a few weeks they transform into a pupa, go through a complete metamorphosis, and emerge as an adult butterfly. The timing of this depends on the climate, the warmer it is the faster they grow.

Reproduction

A green, barrel-shaped egg is laid singly on a host plant. The color of the larva varies from chartreuse with black marbling to a purple with a yellow hue.

  • Breeding season
    All year in the tropics, spring and summer in cooler climates.
  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

Lifespan/Longevity

Lifespan depends on the climate, but is probably never more than one winter. Only adults survive through winter, and even then only in mild climates.

Behavior

The Painted Lady is well known for its migratory behavior. It is continuously brooded and does not disperse. Adult males will perch in the late afternoon to establish and defend a territory. However, a male does not selectively perch on species of plants that serve as larval hosts. Almost always males win exclusive use of their defended areas.

Food Habits

The Painted lady consumes more than 100 different plants, some include thistles, Burdock, and Groundsel. The Larval foodplants are thistles and members of the families Asteraceae and Malvaceae.

Predation

Adult painted ladies' main defenses are flight and camouflage. The caterpillars hide in small silk nests on top of leaves, and may have chemical defenses, but this is uncertain.

Conservation Status

These are such common butterflies that they need no special conservation efforts.

Other Comments

The Painted Lady is also known as the Thistle Butterfly because of its strong liking for thistles, and the Cosmopolitan for its worldwide distribution.

Contributors

Marie S. Harris (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Opler, Paul A. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.

Sheilds, O. World Distribution of of the Vanessa Cardui group. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 46(6):235-238.

Shull, Ernest M.. The Butterflies of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, 1987.