Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)
The painted lady butterfly is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world – giving it another common name of the cosmopolitan butterfly. It is found everywhere except Antarctica and Australia. Just yesterday (September 6) there were thousands of painted ladies at Gray Eagle Wildlife Area near the recycling center and also Pioneer Ridge Nature Area. They are taking advantage of the flowering plants of the fall prairie such as asters, thistle and snake root.
With a wingspan up to just under 3 inches, this butterfly migrates south to warmer climates each fall and returns each spring. That’s right. Monarchs are not the only migrating butterflies in Iowa. With an adult life span of about 2 weeks, many generations will pass during the winter months. Females are typically larger than males, and they will lay eggs on top of leaves on plants caterpillars will eat. Painted lady caterpillars are known to eat more than 100 different plant species – so they are not extremely picky (like monarch caterpillars). After hatching, the caterpillar will make a silk “nest” on leaves for protection as it eats and grows.
Check out the eye spots on the outer part of the wing. This will help you distinguish the painted lady from the American lady butterflies. They only have two eye spots. Plus the American lady butterflies are larger than painted lady butterflies.
Now is a great time to get outside to see all the butterflies preparing for winter. Some may be migrating. Others may be finishing their adult life cycle after laying eggs. And still others may spend the winter here as adults. However they will spend the winter, fall is a great time to see a variety of butterflies in the prairies. Go for a hike this weekend. You never know what you might see – like thousands of painted ladies.