Status:    uncommon to abundant resident/migrant (cyclic)

Flights:  1-2, Jan-Dec

Distribution/known sites in Monterey County:  widespread throughout

Habitats:  everywhere: open, disturbed, sea level to timberline

Host plants:  >100 known, mainly thistles, mallows, sunflowers, legumes

Adult foodprefers nectar from 3-6 foot high composites, esp thistles; also blackberries, lupine, red clover

Conservation: secure globally


  1.   adults can’t survive winter freeze

  2.   flight fast and erratic

  3.   cyclic - numbers vary dramatically year to year

  4.   world’s most cosmoplitan butterfly due to migratory behavior and broad palate

  5.   migrates north from Mexican plateau in spring (Mar-Apr)

  6.   migrants fly few feet above ground, over objects rather than around them

  7.   fall return flight may be at higher altitudes

  8.   Sep-Oct brood triggered into reproductive diapause by declining day length

  9.   often found with American lady

  10.   no protruded apex like other ladies; FW apex rounder in fem; row of blue-centered dots on dorsal HW may be blind (white), esp in males; summer breeders larger, brighter


Painted lady

Vanessa cardui

Life history facts

egg: laid singly on tops of host plant leaves

larva: eats leaves, lives in silken nest


adult:  hibernates in s. US/Mexico and in mild winters; in west, males perch on shrubs on hilltops, sometimes patrol, esp. in late afternoon, for females; in east, males perch on bare ground in open areas