The Painted Lady butterfly - Vanessa cardui

Despite is association with English gardens, the Painted Lady butterfly - Vanessa cardui, is actually a long distance migrant species native to North Africa. However its range in not just limited to these two regions. It is in fact one of the most widespread of all butterflies, and found on every continent except for Antarctica and South America.

The Painted Lady butterfly - Vanessa cardui
It is a large, orange-brown (sometimes pinkish) species with black markings and with black wingtips that contain white markings. The underside has a pale marbling of similar colours, and a small eye-spots on the rear edges of the hindwings. The adult wingspan usually sits between 54-58 mm.

The majority of the migrant population will arrive in the UK from May to June with numbers varying from year to year. Research has shown that the Painted Lady’s migration pattern does not follow a strict northwest heading to the UK. There is a range of headings which suggests that the butterflies may adjust their migration patterns in response to both local topographical features and weather patterns.

The Painted Lady caterpillar - Vanessa cardui
The Painted Lady butterflies immediately mate and lay eggs as soon as they arrive in the Mediterranean in the spring (May onwards), and will continue to reproduce throughout their migration to the UK.

The eggs are laid singularly, and start off green in colour turning more brown as they mature. The caterpillars are up to 28 mm in length, and a blackish colour with fine white speckling with a yellow line along the side. The spines are usually black or yellow-ish. The pupa is greenish grey, sometimes with a metallic sheen.

The food plants of the caterpillars will include thistles, mallows, burdocks, viper's bugloss and nettles, The adults feed from buddleia, burdocks, brambles amongst others.

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