Tag Archives: Vanessa cardui

Massive Wave of Painted Lady Butterflies Lights up Denver Weather Radar

Thank you to Meg and Donna Stoman for sharing this fantastic story of a 70 mile wide “butterfly cloud!”

DENVER STAR

DENVER—A lacy, cloudlike pattern drifting across a Denver-area radar screen turned out to be a 110-kilometre-wide wave of butterflies, forecasters say.

Paul Schlatter of the National Weather Service said he first thought flocks of birds were making the pattern he saw on the radar Tuesday, but the cloud was headed northwest with the wind, and migrating birds would be southbound in October.

He asked birdwatchers on social media what it might be, and by Wednesday had his answer: People reported seeing a loosely spaced net of painted lady butterflies drifting with the wind across the area.

Schlatter said the colours on the radar image are a result of the butterflies’ shape and direction, not their own colours.

Midwestern radar stations occasionally pick up butterflies, but Schlatter believes it’s a first for Denver.

An unusually large number of painted ladies, which are sometimes mistaken for monarch butterflies, has descended on Colorado’s Front Range in recent weeks, feeding on flowers and sometimes flying together in what seem like clouds.

Sarah Garrett, a lepidopterist at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado, said people from as far away as the Dakotas have called to report seeing the butterflies, whose population typically surges with plentiful flowers.

Research on the painted ladies in North America is limited, but scientists believe they migrate to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico in the fall. In Europe, studies using radio tracking have shown they migrate south from Europe to Africa in the fall and return in the spring. Studies also show that monarch butterflies often use wind to their advantage and glide on currents for periods of time, Garrett said.

An irruption of Painted Ladies is occurring in the northeast and throughout the U.S. Painted Ladies drinking nectar at Seaside Goldenrod.

Compare the larger Monarch (top) to the smaller and richly patterned Painted Lady.

A SPECTACULAR PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLY IRRUPTION HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!

The sheer number of Painted Ladies migrating are stealing some of the Monarchs thunder!

Many readers have written inquiring about the beautiful butterflies with wings in a tapestry of brilliant orange, brown, black, cream, and blue. Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) are often confused with Monarch butterflies, especially during the late summer. Both are currently migrating and you will often see the two species drinking nectar side-by-side.

As do Monarchs, Painted Ladies depart from Mexico to begin their northward migration in springtime. Both Monarchs and Painted Ladies belong to the brush-foot family (Nymphalidae) and can only survive in warm climates.Monarch Butterfly, top, and Painted Lady bottom. Note that the Painted Lady is about half the size of the Monarch

Sightings from the midwest recorded large numbers early in the season, and 2017 has proven to be an outstanding year for this most successful of butterflies. The Painted Lady is also nicknamed the “Cosmopolitan” butterfly because it is the most widespread butterfly in the world.

Painted Lady drinking nectar from the Seaside Goldenrod at the Gloucester HarborWalk

One reason we may possibly be experiencing a Painted Lady irruption in North America is because a rainy spring in the south was followed by a fabulous bloom of dessert annuals that provided abundant food plants for the caterpillars. Unlike Monarch butterflies, which will only deposit their eggs on members of the milkweed family (Asclepias), Painted Lady caterpillars eat a wide range of plants. More than 300 host plants have been noted; favorites include thistles, yarrow, Pearly Everlasting, Common Sunflower (Asteraceae), Hollyhock and many mallows (Malvaceae), various legumes (Fabaceae) along with members of Boraginaceae, Plantaginaceae, and Urticaceae.

Common Buckeye and Painted Lady Nectaring at the Seaside Goldenrod at the Gloucester HarborWalk  

Much, much more remains to be discovered about the beautiful Painted Lady, its habits and how their behavior and seasonal distribution varies by geographic location.

Read More about Painted Ladies here:

DANCE OF COLOR AND LIGHT

Painted Lady Drinking Nectar from the Purple-stemmed Aster

Three Fragrant Beauties

Painted Lady Butterfly Nanho Purple Butterfly Bush © Kim Smith 2013

Last night I gave a talk on Fragrant Gardening at a sportmen’s club in Plymouth. In looking through images to update my presentation, I found two photos that had previously been overlooked. The first photo is of a Painted Lady nectaring at the sweetly scented butterfly bush ‘Nanho Purple,’ which blooms continuously throughout the summer. You can see she is a Painted Lady because of the four concentric circles, or “eyespots,” on the underside of her hindwing.

Monarch Butterfly Alma Potchke New England aster ©Kim Smith 2013

The second photo is of a Monarch nectaring at New England Aster ‘Alma Potchke,’ taken at a friend’s garden on Eastern Point. Our native New England asters have a wonderful spicy sweet earthy fragrance and are one the most potently fragrant asters found. New England asters bloom typically from late August through September.

American Lady Butterfly Korean Daisy gKim Smith 2013

The third photo I’ve posted before and it is of an American Lady nectaring at Korean Daisies. You can tell she is an American Lady by her two comparatively larger eyespots. Unlike hybridized chrysanthemums, which are usually bred for color, Korean Daisies are the straight species and are fabulously fragrant. Their period of florescence is from September through October, oftentimes into early November; only a hard frost stops their bloom power.

With just these three beauties, one could have a staggered and continuously fragrant garden in bloom from July through November–and create Mecca for butterflies on the wing.

Painted Lady or American Lady?

In response to Marty’s question ~

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) ~ Note the two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, close to the outer margin.

Marty your photo is that of the Painted Lady. Typically in our region we would most often see the American Lady however, this is an irruptive year for the Painted Lady. There has been a population explosion of Painted Ladies reported throughout New England and beyond, which is especially unusual and interesting because this past spring (2012) was also an irruptive year for the closely related Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).

The easiest way to tell the difference: Painted Ladies have four large spots on the underside of their hindwings, close to the outer margins, which you can easily see in your lovely photo. American Ladies have two “eyespots” on each hindwing, and the spots are considerably larger.

Painted Lady  (Vanessa cardui) ~ Note the four large spots on the hindwing.

I am calling the summer of 2012 the “summer of ten thousand butterflies.” Just incredible! I would have answered this is in the comment section, but I don’t know if it is possible to add a photo and will post more in a future post about the two species but am in the middle of making dinner. Did you take this shot with your new camera?

Painted Lady

Painted Lady–never a more aptly named butterfly! Although ubiquitous, the sheer number of Painted Ladies found in gardens this summer is simply astonishing.

Painted Lady (Dorsal)

This morning in our postage-stamp-of-a-lot, there were quite possibly over one hundred newly emerged Painted Ladies nectaring from the Joe-pye, Baby Joe, zinnias, butterfly bushes, phlox, and Rudbeckia.