About a week and a half ago there were several Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies in the flower garden out in front of the Butterfly House. Painted Ladies don’t breed in this area so it was a bit unusual to see them. The butterflies were pointed out to me by Richard Stickney (Butterfly House Conservatory), but I had seen them the day before at the close of the day. However, I had passed them off as American Ladies (Vanessa virginiensis), a very similar and common local species of butterfly. A subsequent closer look by this careless naturalist (me) confirmed them to be Painted Ladies.
Painted Ladies are native to the Southwest United States. Each year the species emigrates north presumably as the population increases and the local food supply dwindles. The number of individuals moving north varies from year to year. But most years some do make it to our area.
As mentioned, Painted Ladies are very similar in appearance to the local American Lady. The differences in the two species are subtle, but with practice it’s quite easy to tell them apart, as long as they stand still long enough.
The Painted Lady has four small eye spots on the underside of the hindwing (four arrows). The American Lady has two large eye spots on the under surface of its hindwings (two arrows). The white spot on the forewing of the American Lady is also visible from below (single arrow). Sometimes, it pays to look twice.
For several weeks I’ve been seeing Monarchs moving in a general southerly direction while I walk the “wild” areas of the Museum, one butterfly one day, another several days later. I wouldn’t call it a major movement, but there are Monarchs around and they seem to be moving south.
We don’t see large groups of this migratory butterfly here in the Piedmont as does occur on the coast or in the mountains, but the big orange butterflies do travel through our area on their way to Mexico. So, keep an eye open for them. September and October are the peek months for the passage of Monarchs.
Have a good one!