Lots of ladies

Painted lady butterfly

A visit from one or possibly more painted lady butterflies to the tithonia plant prompted an internet search to find out more about the colorful visitor(s).

A search of recent news stories revealed that Nebraska and Colorado are experiencing a butterfly boom of the colorful creatures.

An Associated Press story out of Omaha said the Nebraska Extension received “reports of at least 100 painted lady butterflies in some Omaha flower gardens. The gardens usually draw only a few dozen.” Photos accompanying the story showed bushes full of “living flowers” as numerous butterflies fed on the blossoms.

An entomologist with Nebraska Extension attributed the extra number of butterflies to ample rains in California.


Painted lady butterfly

The article said “the butterflies spend the summer in cooler places like North Dakota and Canada, but that they head south through Nebraska as fall approaches.”

It also mentioned that there were an abundance of the butterfly in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

These reports appeared to be corroborated when checking the recent sightings on Butterflies and Moths of North America. There were several reported over the past weekend with several sightings hailing from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska.

Who is Vanessa?

There are four Vanessa butterfly species in North America.

The red admiral or Vanessa atalanta; the painted lady or Vanessa cardui; The American lady or Vanessa virginiensis and the West Coast lady or Vanessa annabella.

And in case you’re wondering, the name Vanessa is Greek for butterfly, according to several baby name suggestion websites.

Iowa State University provided some basic information on the Vanessa butterflies on its Red Admiral and Painted Lady Research Site.


Red admiral butterfly photographed in 2012

According to the university’s site, the red admiral “butterfly inhabits North America from central Canada through the Mexican highlands to Guatemala (Opler, 1992).”

The site said the painted lady is the “most widely distributed butterfly in the world (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986). It is found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and Central America.”


Painted lady butterfly

It added that the painted lady butterfly “is not a permanent resident in the eastern United States, but quasi-periodically migrates there from the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico (Opler and Krizek, 1984). These migrations are sporadic and often enormous.”

The university said the American lady inhabits North America from southern Canada through the entire United States.

The school added that the American lady can be distinguished from the painted lady by the two large, black-ringed blue eyespots on the underside of the hindwing. Painted ladies have five small submarginal eyespots.

Meanwhile the West Coast lady, true to its name is only found in western North America.

The university’s sources for their post included “A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies” by P.A. Opler and “Butterflies East of the Great Plains” by Opler and G.O. Krizek.

The painted lady, red admiral and American lady are all on the Butterflies and Moths of North America’s checklist for being sighted in Venango County.


Painted lady butterfly

More on the painted lady butterfly

“Every year, painted lady butterflies make huge migrations from Africa to Europe and back again,” said a post on the Biokids website titled “Kids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species.”

The post mentioned that the butterflies make this trip in North America as well from Mexico to the northern United States and Canada and back again.

“Since most adult butterflies do not live more than a month, it is not just one generation of butterfly that makes this migration. Instead, it is their offspring and their offsprings’ offspring that make the journey,” the post said.

The site also said painted ladies live about a year, from egg to death.

However, the adults only live for about 10 to 24 days after emerging from their cocoons.


Painted lady butterfly

At Inaturalist.org, the Vanessa Migration Project is tracking the migration of the painted lady butterflies and their other Vanessa “sisters.”

The project relies on citizen scientists to submit their sightings via the internet so researchers can study their movements and migrations.

More information on the project is available at www.inaturalist.org.

So, while the region probably won’t see the numbers that areas out west are experiencing, residents can still keep an eye out for this visitor whose colors are sure to brighten up any garden.



Meanwhile, the goldfinches – apparently tired of the same old seeds at the feeder – have been frequenting the garden to sample fresh seeds from tithonia, sunflower and catnip mint blossoms.


Maple tree starting to turn

Several maple trees appear to be gearing up for the first day of autumn on Friday as they turn from green to red.


Monarch butterfly

A Walk in the Woods contains photos from newsroom staffer Anna Applegate’s daily jaunts around her neck of the woods. Tagging along on the treks are dogs Buford, Sherman and Sadie, and goats Kyle and Kennedy. Applegate manages the Good Times and can be emailed at bigdogs.thederrick@gmail.com