Creature Feature

A Very Common Colorful Butterfly  

In my yard, coneflowers are blooming, catching the attention of many bumblebees but only a few butterflies. It may be too early in the summer for butterflies but I was expecting more.  

One of the only butterflies currently feeding on the flowers was a painted lady. The name is a bit unusual, but it is also known as the cosmopolitan or the thistle butterfly, describing its favorite flower. The name painted lady describes the colors and designs on the wings, like bright make-up. Their wings have eyes that seem to wear eye shadow and there are blotches of rouge-like pinkish red.   

The painted lady is one of the most widely dispersed butterflies in the world. They can have six generations in the course of a year. In a good year, their population could explode.  

The main reason they are so common is that the painted lady caterpillars are not picky about what plant they feed on. Over 300 plants are tasty to the small spiky bugs, thistle being its favorite. The caterpillars have huge appetites and develop into a silk-covered chrysalis and then a butterfly fairly quickly.  

The butterflies are gregarious and can be seen flying in large groups. In fact, when there is a population explosion of painted ladies, large migrations can occur. Every few years migrations of millions of butterflies have been recorded from northern Africa and the Mediterranean coast flying into Northern Europe, and from southern Mexico north into California. These migrations are similar to that of the monarch butterfly but unlike the monarch, the painted lady’s migrations are not required for survival of the species.  

By autumn, I hope to have many more butterflies visiting, but so far it does appear that the butterfly population is lower than normal.