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Vanessa virginiensis

(American Lady)


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Interesting Facts

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The American painted lady is perhaps the most cold tolerant of all the painted ladies and their close relative, the Red Admiral. It is believed many of these butterflies are able to overwinter , even in the northern U.S. While common in the East, its numbers never seem very large in any particular area; In much of the west, its appearance is completely unpredictable. It is an avid flower-visitor and can often be found in gardens with butterfly bushes. The American painted lady was formerly called Vanessa huntera.

Common Names

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Click on the language to view common names.

Common Names in Chinese:


Common Names in Dutch:

Vanessa virginiensis

Common Names in English:

American Lady, American Painted Lady, Painted Beauty

Common Names in French:

Vanesse des perlières, Vanesse Virginiensis

Common Names in Irish:

Áilleán Meiriceánach

Common Names in Persian (Farsi):

بانوی آراسته


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Family Nymphalidae

'The Nymphalidae are members of the Superfamily Papilionoidea, the true butterflies. Distributed worldwide, butterflies of this family are especially rich in the tropics. They are highly variable, and there are more species in this family than in any other. Adults vary in size from small to large, and their front legs are reduced, unable to be used for walking. Wing shape is also highly variable: some species have irregular margins (anglewings and commas), and others have long taillike projections (daggerwings). Browns, oranges, yellows, and blacks are frequent colors, while iridescent colors such as purples and blues are rare. Adults of some groups are the longest-lived butterflies, surviving 6-11 months. Adult feeding behavior depends on the species, where some groups primarily seek flower nectar while others only feed on sap flows , rotting fruit, dung, or animal carcasses. Males exhibit perching and patrolling behaviors when seeking mates. Egg-laying varies widely, as some species lay eggs in clustsers, others in columns, and others singly. Caterpillar appearance and behavior vary widely. Brushfoots overwinter as larvae or adults.


Subfamily Nymphalinae

Brushfoots are the most prevalent members of the Family Nymphalinae. Distributed worldwide, this is a diverse group that contains several tribes , each with somewhat different structural and biological features. Adults of North American species are predominantly orange, brown, and black. Wing shape and mating systems are variable. Most checkerspots and crescentspots patrol for mates, while the remainder of groups exhibit either perching or perching and patrolling . Migration varies widely; some strong migrants are found in the lady butterflies, tortoiseshells, and anglewings, while other species are local in occurrence. Most species limit their host plants to a few species, but the Painted Lady has one of the widest host palettes of all butterflies. Eggs are laid singly or clustered in groups, and caterpillars be found feeding alone or communally. Brushfoots overwinter as young caterpillars or hibernating adults.[2]

Physical Description

Species Vanessa virginiensis

Upperside with uneven brown, yellow, and orange pattern . Forewing with a black apical patch , a small white spot in the orange field below the patch, and a white bar at the leading edge of the forewing. Underside of hindwing with two large eyespots. Winter form is smaller and paler, summer form larger with brighter coloring. (ref. 105973)


Upperside with uneven brown, yellow, and orange pattern . Forewing with a black apical patch , a small white spot in the orange field below the patch, and a white bar at the leading edge of the forewing. Underside of hindwing with two large eyespots. Winter form is smaller and paler, summer form larger with brighter coloring.


Wing span : 1 3/4 - 2 5/8 inches (4.5 - 6.7 cm).


Anywhere.Meadows, fields , open areas with low vegetation including dunes, meadows, parks, vacant lots , forest edges .

Very widespread, and not showing any favoritism toward damp places (as the Red Admiral tends to do). Occurs in fields, wooded borders , powerline clearings, yards and gardens, dunes, savannas , and a great variety of open or mostly open sites. (ref. 104776)

Open places with low vegetation including dunes, meadows, parks, vacant lots, forest edges. (ref. 105973)

Typically found at an altitude of 0 to 2,594 meters (0 to 8,510 feet).[3]


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Caterpillar hosts: Plants in the sunflower family everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), plantain-leaved pussy toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia), wormwood (Artemisia), ironweed (Vernonia), and burdock (Arctium). Adult food: Flower nectar almost exclusively, including dogbane, aster, goldenrod, marigold, selfheal, common milkweed, and vetch.

Foodplants are primarily pussy-toes (Antennaria spp. ) and cudweeds (Gnaphalium spp.), less often other composites . The species has a wide nectar preference, often in gardens; also feeds on tree sap and damp soil. (ref. 104776)


Barrel-shaped pale green eggs are laid singly on thistle (Cirsium), Aster or mallow. Caterpillars range up to 1¼"(35mm). Their color varies from purple with yellow back stripe to chartreuse with black marbled appearance . Chrysalis 1" (25mm) pale green to brown, bumpy, hangs upside down .

During the afternoon, males perch on hilltops or on low vegetation if there are no hills . Females lay eggs singly on the top of host plant leaves. Caterpillars are solitary, living and feeding in a nest of leaves tied with silk . Adults hibernate.


Flight: Three to four broods from May-November, all year in the Deep South and South Texas. It is not known if adults can survive very cold winters; the East may have to be recolonized each year by southern migrants.

Flight period: Three or four broods, with a continuous flight period. Present in NC without gaps from February to November; a few all winter. The first flight in the mountains does not begin until early April. Adults can be seen on warm winter days in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain , but whether they mate in late winter (as do anglewings) is not clear. The first flight of newly-hatched individuals downstate likely begins during the latter half of March. (ref. 104776)


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Name Status: Accepted Name . Latest taxonomic scrutiny: June 24, 1996.

Similar Species

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West Coast Lady has orange bar across black patch.

Similar to the Painted Lady but note the more squared off forewing tip, the white spot in the red-orange area of the forewing, and the 2 large (rather than 4 medium) eyespots on the ventral hindwing. Painted Lady has smaller eyespots below.

Members of the genus Vanessa

ZipcodeZoo has pages for 12 species and subspecies in this genus:

V. altissima (Andean Lady) · V. annabella (West Coast Lady) · V. atalanta (Red Admiral) · V. atalanta atalanta (Red Admiral) · V. braziliensis (Brazilian Lady) · V. cardui (Cosmopolite) · V. indica (Indian Painted Lady) · V. indica indica (Indian Painted Lady) · V. itea (Yellow Admiral) · V. kershawi (Australian Painted Lady) · V. tameamea (Kamehameha Butterfly) · V. virginiensis (American Lady)

More Info

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Further Reading

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Data Sources

Accessed through GBIF Data Portal November 12, 2007:



  1. Butterflies [back]
  2. [back]
  3. Mean = 236.730 meters (776.673 feet), Standard Deviation = 218.790 based on 993 observations. Altitude information for each observation from British Oceanographic Data Centre. [back]
Last Revised: 2015-02-06