The Ladies and a Gentleman

Painted Lady, American Lady, West Coast Lady and Red Admiral Butterflies

Brush-footed butterflies belonging to the genus Vanessa, the name of the genus may have been taken from the character Vanessa in Jonathan Swift’s poem “Cadenus and Vanessa,” which is the source of the woman’s name Vanessa. In the poem Vanessa is called a “nymph” eleven times, and the genus is closely related to the previously-named genus Nymphalis (Wikipedia).

Painted Lady

The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardul, is the most widespread of all butterfly species, and, like the Monarch, has an amazing migratory story to tell.

Distinguishing features include 4-5 submarginal spots on the underside of the wing, and a white outline at the outer edges of the top of the wing near the white spots.

Larval host plants include Arizona Thistle, Desert Cotton, Globemallows, Western Betony, Mexican Sunflower Bush, Yarrow and Western Mugwort. Adults feed on nectar.

Males perch on shrubs or hilltops and patrol for females. Females are generally larger than males.

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 in mild winters.

West Coast Lady

The West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, are the least ranging of the Vanessa species in the continental U.S. In fact, it’s typically limited to the Western part of the country.

Distinguishing features include an orange patch at the top outer edge of the wing on the top side and 4-5 submarginal spots on the underside.

Larval host plants include Globemallows, Hollyhocks and other plants in the mallow family. Adults feed on nectar.

Males perch to watch for receptive females. Females lay eggs singly on upperside of host plant leaves; caterpillars eat leaves and live in a silken nest. Adults hibernate.

American Lady

The American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, reside in the Southern United States and temporarily colonize the northern states.

Distinguishing features include two large eye spots on the underside of the wing, and a white spot in the orange field on the topside of the wing.

Larval host plants include Globemallows, Western Mugwort, Sonoran Everlasting and Groundsel. Adults feed on nectar.

In the afternoon, males perch on hilltops or vegetation to patrol for females.

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.

photo by justmarys on iNaturalist

Red Admiral

The Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, is wide ranging from Mexico up to Canada, but cannot survive cold winters so most of the northern U.S. is recolonized each spring by southern migrants.

Markings are quite easy to distinguish from the Ladies. Red admirals are territorial; females will only mate with males that hold territory. 

photo by burkardleitner on iNaturalist

Larval host plants include New Mexico Hops and plants in the nettles family.

The Red Admiral has a very erratic, rapid flight. Males perch, on ridgetops if available, in the afternoon to wait for females, who lay eggs singly on the tops of host plant leaves. Young caterpillars eat and live within a shelter of folded leaves; older caterpillars make a nest of leaves tied together with silk. Adults hibernate.

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