October’s Painted Lady

A painted lady’s (Vanessa cardui) underwing sports four eyespots and pink patches. It is nectaring on asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).

Mild October days bring butterflies to our garden. We commonly see red admirals, painted ladies, commas and tortoiseshells, but in 2022, I’ve seen fewer numbers of butterflies all season. The only painted lady (Vanessa cardui) that I’ve spotted appeared in late October on a mild, sunny day (77°F/25°C). 

It spent hours nectaring on late-blooming asters in the company of many bees, and flew energetically around the garden every few minutes. While most of the native bees perished in a hard frost (24°F/-4°C) more than two weeks ago, a few hearty bumblebees survived, as did the honey bee colonies. Bees and butterfly got along well and were simply focused on collecting nectar for energy. As I gardened nearby, the gentle humming of the bees was soothing and complemented the rustling of falling scarlet-red maple leaves.

A painted lady’s upper wings carry black and orange markings with a few white spots near the wingtips.

Two days later, the painted lady disappeared from our garden on a warm wind heading south. I miss them during the long northern winter. Also known as the “thistle butterfly,” (because thistles are a favorite food source for both caterpillars and adults), painted ladies migrate to wintering grounds in the southern United States and Mexico to return in late spring.

Further Reading:

Weber, Larry. (2006). Butterflies of the North Woods. Duluth, Minnesota: Kollath & Stensaas Publishing.

Painted Ladies – Nature, Garden, Life

Painted Lady Butterfly – Wisconsin Horticulture

Cherish the (Butterfly) Ladies – UW-Milwaukee Field Station

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