Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Painted Lady

At first I thought it was just another Red Admiral butterfly.  (I've see hundreds this summer).  Same size.  Same stutter-flutter.

I pulled off the road and pushed the park button.   I hopped out of the car with my camera, and hoped the butterfly would sit still log enough for me to get a photo. 

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui

I knew it was something else when it opened its wings.   My first thought was:  Painted Lady.  I'd never seen one before, other than in books.  So I pulled out my iPod and took a look at what Mike Reese has to say about them (on the Wisconsin Butterflies iPod app).

The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world.  They're found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia (and New Zealand).  However, it's the least common  of the three Vanessa sp. in Wisconsin.  The other two are Red Admirals and the American Lady. The Painted has 4 eye spots on the hind wing, the American has two.

Like the Monarch, the Painted Lady is a migrant.  But unlike the Monarch, it's a sporadic (irruptive) migrant.  In the Western Hemisphere, Painted Lady butterflies are common in the deserts of the American southwest and northern Mexico.   Scientists believe rainy periods in the desert trigger their migration north. 

While Monarch larvae feed solely on milkweed, Painted Lady caterpillars are known to feed on more than 100 species, including thistle (cardui is Latin for "of thistle"), legumes (including soybeans), asters and mallow.  

Send your sightings of this species to the Vanessa Project at Iowa State University.  Check out their website.

If you're interested in raising Painted Lady butterflies, you can purchase a kit (insects and food).


Other butterflies spotted today:

2 Eastern Tailed-blue and a "Summer" Spring Azure
Black Swallowtail
Cabbage White

Checkered White (male)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Mustard White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Northern Crescent
Question Mark
Eastern Comma
Milbert's Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
American Lady
Common Buckeye
Hackberry Emperor

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