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Painted Lady

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

An immigrant species to this country from north Africa. In some years we get huge quantities of them and then we can go several years with relatively few. 


  • Painted Lady: lady of Spain

    Post date: Wednesday, 1 July, 2015 - 00:00

    The painted lady (Vanessa cardui) is an immigrant species to this country; it originates as far away as north Africa, especially in Morroco, and are usually very common in Spain. In some years we get huge quantities of them and then we can go several years with relatively few. In May 2009 Butterfly Conservation were estimating over 2 million were coming in across the Channel every day! That was an amazing year and since then I have seen hardly any but that could change if the conditions become favourable for them.

    If we get an early influx, like in 2009, the arriving insects do lay eggs that hatch and that can give us a second brood in the autumn. These, together with autumn arrivals, lay eggs but they sadly cannot stand a British winter and perish.
    The painted lady is a close relative of the red admiral and the markings are incredibly similar; the painted lady has delicate shades of orange and brown whereas the red admiral is, of course, boldly marked in red and black.


  • Painted Lady in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    Post date: Friday, 3 May, 2019 - 21:23

    The painted lady is a close relative of the red admiral appearing to have similar wing markings with the main difference being the painted lady is much paler, more orange than red. Closer inspection shows the two species to be quite distinct from each other despite initial thoughts of similarity. Like the red admiral the painted lady is a migrant species here in Britain and people seem much more aware about the migration of the painted lady than they do about the red admiral. The painted lady is much more varied in terms of numbers arriving and times of arrival compared to the red admiral. In some years there are very few painted ladies and in others the numbers can be almost overwhelming! There is also a tendency for the first painted lady influx to arrive later in the year than the red admiral; that said, no two years are the same when it comes to the painted lady. The first arrivals often land in July and then they can be seen right through until October or even November. The numbers are swollen by insects hatching from eggs laid by earlier arrivals. Winter survival rates are generally low.

    The weekly sightings chart shows that some degree of successful hibernation and winter survival certainly happens with records in January, February and March. Weeks 21 to 25 in May seem to produce a number of reports then there are lesser numbers until weeks 30 to 35 in late July and August. Reports continue through until week 46 in mid November; there were two reports in November 2017 but none in November 2018 so clearly this is weather dependent.

    There are records from forty five sites so far and these are mostly coastal locations which reflects the inward migration and butterflies stopping off here to feed. There is a also tendency for these sites to be chalk or limestone and this will probably be because these habitats are rich in wild flowers for the butterflies to nectar on. Painted ladies are often seen in gardens too, especially those with buddleia bushes. 


Common Name Painted Lady
Scientific Name Vanessa cardui
Species Group Nymphalid Butterflies Admirals and Fritillaries
Interest Level
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Identification Notes
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
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Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Nymphalid Butterflies Admirals and Fritillaries