Butterflies of Scotland
- Painted Lady (Vanessa (Cynthia) cardui)




The Painted Lady is found worldwide, with the exception of South America. It occurs in most of Europe only as a migrant and summer breeding species. Each year, it spreads northwards from the desert fringes of North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, recolonizing mainland Europe and reaching Britain and Ireland, a distance of over 800 miles. In abundant years (1952, 1966 1969, 1996, 2003 for example), the clouds of Painted Ladies crossing the English Channel from continental Europe showed up on air traffic control radar screens, the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

2009 proved to be another "Painted Lady Year" with large numbers making it as far as Scotland. My best sighting was at the end of August that year when many hundreds of Painted Ladies could be seen at the walled garden at Cambo estate on the north coast of Fife. There's a Windows Media Presentation (5 megabytes) with ten graphics of Painted Lady butterflies taken that day. If you want to download the slide show just right click on the link and save or download to your PC. Likewise there is a brief (15 seconds) mpg file showing the butterflies flitting around in some numbers on some marjoram and basking on a pathway.

As can be seen from the illustrations here, the beautiful markings and metallic jewel-like appearance of the Painted Lady are much more impressive than the basic description of "orange-brown wings with black and white spots on forewing. Undersides mottled brown with spots."

Adults can be seen in the Scotland as far north as Orkney and Shetland islands in any month of the year but the peak usually follows the main migration into the UK around June. These immigrants breed in the UK and the resulting fresh individuals (showing more of a pink colour) can be seen on the wing from early July. They may be seen in any habitat although they do tend to congregate in open sunny areas where there are plenty of thistles which provide food for both adults and larvae. Thistles (Cirsium spp.) and Thistles (Carduus spp.) are the primary larval foodplant. Mallows (Malva spp.), Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) and various other plants are also sometimes used.

The egg takes 3 to 5 days to hatch. The caterpillar (black with spiked skin) then takes 711 days to turn into a chrysalis. It takes 711 days for the chrysalis to turn into a butterfly. The Painted Lady butterfly (with a wing span of 2 inches) can fly over 1,000 miles in its life and reach speeds of 8-10mph. The Painted Ladies that are born here do not survive beyond autumn.

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