Painted Lady

Vanessa cardui
Nymphalidae (brushfooted butterflies)

Adult: Like the American lady (V. virginiensis), this is an orange and black butterfly with white spots on the dark forewing tips and white cobwebbing on the brown undersides of the hindwings. Painted ladies have four small eyespots on the underside of the hindwing. Seen from above, the wide dark median forewing band is not broken into two parts, and the spots on the hindwing are well separated.

Larvae are greenish yellow to lavender, with yellowish spines and a yellow lateral stripe on the sides.

Wingspan: 1¾–2½ inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
This butterfly is found worldwide, with the exception of South America and Antarctica. It occurs in nearly any kind of open habitat.
Caterpillars construct a silk nest on the leaves of their host plants, which shelters them as they chew. They prefer thistle (Circium) leaves but use over 100 species of herbaceous plants, frequently in the sunflower family but also other plant families. The ability of the caterpillars to feed on a wide variety of plants is one factor in the nearly worldwide range of this species. The adults feed on the nectar from a variety of flowers.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Breeding summer resident.
Life cycle: 
Painted ladies arrive from the south in late March and fly until November. There are multiple broods. They frequently lay eggs on host plants within patches of nectar flowers even if those plants don’t provide for optimal caterpillar growth. Increasing a female’s sugar consumption increases her longevity and the total number of eggs she lays. Painted ladies lay a large number of small eggs in a lifetime, opting for quantity over quality.
Human connections: 
The commonness and abundance of this butterfly makes it an excellent subject for biological investigation. Schoolchildren witness the process of larval growth and metamorphosis. Professional biologists study the migration patterns and mating behaviors.
Ecosystem connections: 
The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on vegetation. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators. In years when the populations of this species are especially large, the larvae serve as a check on thistle populations.
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