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What Is a Painted Lady?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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The painted lady is a species of butterfly usually found around the world, inhabiting tropical climates all year long and sometimes migrating north during the warmer season. These butterflies don't usually have a regular migration pattern, but usually only migrate if the conditions are right. The painted lady can typically be found wherever its host plants are found, usually in meadows, along roadsides and in home gardens. They normally pass through four stages of development in their life cycle and have a total average lifespan of about seven weeks.

These butterflies are considered the most widely distributed species of butterfly on the planet, because they can be found inhabiting every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. While the painted lady doesn't have a regular migration pattern like some butterfly species, it has been known to migrate intermittently, and in impressive numbers. These butterflies may migrate north if the population in their native region grows too large for the local ecosystem to support it. They almost always migrate north, and the extent of their migration can depend on the weather conditions in climates further north. These butterflies typically thrive only in warmer climates, and, sometimes, the migrating butterflies fail to survive the colder season after migrating to a region further north.

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The life cycle of the painted lady butterfly can last several weeks in total. These butterflies normally lay their eggs one at a time on the leaves of host plants, and the eggs usually hatch in three to five days. Painted lady caterpillars feed from the host plants for 12 to 18 days before entering the pupal stage. The pupa typically remains in its cocoon for about ten days before the adult butterfly emerges to enjoy an average lifespan of about two weeks.

The wings of the adult painted lady are typically dappled brown, orange, black, and white. The underside of the wings may be mostly brown or gray in color. The wingspan can reach widths of 1.9 to 2.4 inches (5 to 6 cm).

These butterflies usually feed on a number of plants. Host plants for the painted lady caterpillar can include hollyhock, thistle and mallow. The adult butterflies usually feed on the nectar of the thistle, blazing star, aster, cosmos, joe-pye weed, and ironweed. They appear to prefer nectar from flowers of the Asteraceae family.

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