Painted Lady Nymphalidae

Vanessa cardui (Linnaeus, 1758)

Description: Wingspan 58-74 mm. The uppersides are tawny-orange and brown with black blotches and spots. The forewings are broadly tipped with black which contains white spots. The pattern on the underside of the forewing is a paler reflection of the upperside. The underside of the hindwing is quite intricately patterned in brown, white and grey with four eye spots. The females are on average larger than males but differ very little in appearance.

Similar Species: The Small Tortoiseshell is superficially similar but Painted Lady is more orange and is noticeably larger.

Key Identification Features:

Sets:  male upperside male underside

Flight Period: Adults have been recorded in all months from March to October. August and September are the peak months for sightings, followed by June. Early arrivals may result in locally bred individuals.

Status: The Painted Lady is a migrant which is recorded almost annually but usually in small numbers. It has been recorded throughout N. Ireland.

Ecology: The Painted Lady is a continually brooded species in North Africa. Each year there is a northward movement starting in spring, and successive generations spread into Europe, including Ireland. The numbers and timing of arrivals are subject to great annual variation and in some years none are seen. Immigration in N. Ireland is most frequent in August and September but can be as early as March. Early arrivals may produce locally bred adults. There is no evidence that the species can successfully overwinter in N. Ireland. The larval foodplants are thistles especially Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare and Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre. Adults feed on a wide variety of flowers.

World Distribution: Throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In Eurasia permanent populations occur on edges of the desert zones in North Africa, Arabia and Central Asia.

Bradley & Fletcher number: 1591 Agassiz number: 59.024

Additional information:

UK Butterflies account


 Thompson, R. S. & Nelson, B., 2003 (Oct 2). [In] The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland