Have you noticed the beautiful Painted Lady Butterfly flitting about your garden, in the meadows, along roadways, and even at the beach? I think we are having a Painted Lady irruption. The wave of Painted Ladies began appearing in large numbers this past spring, with reports of a dramatic increase in sightings in the midwest.
The Painted Lady is the most successful butterfly in the world. It lives some part of the year on every continent except South America, where it is rare or absent. Despite the fact that the Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly, not a great deal is known about its migration. In North America the annual spring migration is thought to originate in the northwestern region of Mexico, where they can be found all year round. Heavy rains in late winter in that region trigger an explosion of northward migrating Painted Ladies that establish the spring brood.
I watched this little torn and tattered Painted Lady fly south over the Essex River, from Crane’s Beach to Wingaersheek Beach. She rested on a rock briefly, and then headed to the wildflowers in the dunes.
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.
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.
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.
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?