12 Awesome Facts About Painted Lady Butterflies

The Painted Lady is one of the most striking and recognizable butterflies in the world. Butterfly enthusiasts love them because they’re easy to spot, are drawn to many different kinds of flowers, and can be found just about anywhere. They are a fascinating species, and if you want to learn more about them, keep reading!

12 facts about painted lady butterflies

1. Painted ladies are the most widely distributed butterfly in the world

One of the most common facts about painted lady butterflies is their widespread range. The painted lady butterfly lives on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. They inhabit many different habitats, too, and while they definitely favor warm climates, they also migrate to cold areas in spring and summer.

As a result, they are the most widely distributed butterfly in the world. No other butterfly really comes close. You can see painted ladies flying around in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, everywhere from gardens in the middle of major cities to meadows out in the forest.


2. The painted lady loves to eat thistles

In some places the painted lady is called the thistle butterfly. This is because the caterpillars of the painted lady love to eat thistles, and are often found in high concentrations on thistle plants. This name is particularly common in Europe, where thistles are a common plant group.

painted lady sipping nectar from thistle | image by hedera.baltica via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The caterpillars aren’t the only ones feasting on thistles, either. Adults tend to favor thistles as their source of nectar, and, while they’re not as picky as some other butterflies, they definitely will pick thistle flowers over anything else when they have the choice.


3. Strange migrations

While painted ladies do migrate, it’s not actually clear why they migrate. Their migrations don’t follow seasonal or geographic patterns. Some researchers believe their migrations are linked to El Nino, while others believe it’s related to population density. It could even be both, along with other, undiscovered factors.

Millions of painted ladies migrate from North Africa to Europe each year. Depending on the time and season of the migration, they may fly just 6 feet off the ground for their whole migration, or they may fly at such high altitudes that they can’t be seen from the ground.


4. Painted ladies are fast fliers

When they do migrate, they do it fast. They can easily cover 100 miles in a day, and a painted lady butterfly is capable of flying at 30 miles per hour. In fact, they almost always arrive in an area long before their more famous migrating cousin, the monarch butterfly.

30mph may not seem like a lot of speed, but when you consider how small and light a painted lady is, it’s a truly impressive feat of strength for them to maintain that speed over distance.


5. They can’t take the cold

Painted ladies can’t handle cold weather at all. Oddly, though, they don’t migrate out of cold areas. Instead, they simply die when the weather turns cold. In fact, they don’t reproduce in cold places at all, and the only painted ladies that end up in cold, northern climates are individuals who migrate there from warmer places.

That means that painted lady butterflies migrate from areas they can survive year-round and successfully reproduce in, to areas where they’ll die once winter comes and will be unable to reproduce in. It isn’t clear why they do this, although their short lifespans (only a couple of weeks as adults) may have something to do with it.


6. Threat to soybeans

Despite their love for thistles, painted ladies actually represent a major threat to soybean crops. Caterpillars hatching in large numbers can quickly decimate the foliage on the soybean plant, and so a high population of painted lady butterflies can be cause for alarm for soybean farmers.


7. Patrolling for mates

Male painted lady butterflies have a unique method for finding mates. They’ll establish a territory, and then patrol it all day long, looking for females ready to mate. Once he finds a mate, they’ll fly up to a tree top, and spend the night together there, safely out of the reach of most of their predators.

painted lady

8. Painted lady butterflies can make tents

Painted lady caterpillars like to hide themselves when they’re ready to sleep. To do this, they construct tents for themselves out of silk. Other species will simply fold a leaf over and use their silk to glue the edges together, and painted ladies are one of the only species to actually build the entire tent out of silk. You’ll typically find these tents on thistle plants, where the caterpillars prefer to feed.


9. They don’t like cloudy days

On a sunny day, it’s not uncommon to see huge numbers of painted ladies fluttering around a meadow or a flower garden. But when the sun isn’t out, neither are the butterflies. On cloudy days, painted ladies find small depressions in the ground where they’ll congregate and huddle together. This might be a way of maintaining body heat, avoiding the risk of flying in foul weather, or both.


10. They’ll lay their eggs anywhere

One of the facts about painted lady butterflies that’s unique to their species is that they will lay their eggs just about anywhere. Some butterflies, like the monarch, will only lay their eggs on one species of plant. Painted Ladies are unique, because there are over 100 documented host plants that they’ll use for their eggs.

Most likely, that’s because of their wide distribution and erratic migration habits. If they got picky about the plants they laid their eggs on, they might have trouble reproducing. By laying their eggs on just about any species of plant they can find, they make it much easier on themselves.


11. They’re well camouflaged

The tops of their wings have bright colors that make them easy to spot, but the underside of their wings are brown and mottled. This provides excellent camouflage and helps them to hide from predators when they feel it’s necessary. They simply land on the ground or on the side of a tree and fold up their wings- then they blend right in.


12. Painted lady butterflies can lay 500 eggs

painted lady butterfly laying eggs | image by Colin Durfee via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A female painted lady only lives for about 2-4 weeks as an adult, which makes her egg-laying productivity truly incredible. During those few weeks, she can lay up to five hundred eggs.

To put that in perspective, the very best, most productive egg laying chickens lay about eggs per week. A painted lady is laying more than 100 per week!

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The Critter Hideout talks about all types of creatures and critters including reptiles, amphibians, insects, and spiders. Our goal is to simply share helpful information and answer common questions.