You may have seen one, two or many of these lovely butterflies in the past week. Maybe in your backyard or in a flower garden or in a park.
Butterfly enthusiasts have reported thousands (!!) of Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) from Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, and everywhere along the north shore of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The eastern US is awash in clouds of Painted Ladies! Maxim Larrivée of the University of Ottawa and e-butterfly.org creator reported them from mid-July as far north as the Hudson Bay coast.
Painted Ladies belong to the same genus (Vanessa) as American Ladies and Red Admirals. All three species are migrants to Ontario; they reproduce here and then fly south to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. The prickly-looking caterpillars feed on composite plants (family Asteraceae) including thistles, knapweeds and burdocks.
Painted Ladies are smaller and less orange than Monarch butterflies and their flight is quick compared to the Monarchs’ gentle and slower glide. In most years, Painted Ladies are rare to uncommon especially compared to the other Vanessa species. It has been an exceptional year for them, rarely do we get such an explosion of Painted Ladies!
If you are lucky, you may spot them as they prepare to migrate. Since they have a long trip ahead of them, they are feeding on as much flower nectar as they can. Do take a moment or two to enjoy their presence before they leave us!