Saturday, May 10, 2014

Painted Lady migration

There have been numerous reports of Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) making their way north through Washington the past couple weeks.  The Painted Lady usually can't survive our winters and must migrate here from warmer regions in the southern states.  Depending on weather and population conditions, some years we may never see any Painted Ladies here, while other years they will be everywhere.  I haven't seen very many at all for the past couple years, but this year have already spotted two near Longview, and others have spotted them in places around Seattle, Ellensburg, and Spokane.  They are very fast and wary butterflies, often hard to catch or photograph.  Their larvae feed on thistles, so keep an eye out for spiny, lavender-gray caterpillars and shiny gold chrysalids whenever you see a patch of thistles!
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - dorsal side
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - ventral side
A cousin of the Painted Lady, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), is another butterfly that usually cannot survive our winters and must migrate here from warmer climates, although occasionally a lucky few will survive in garages or other protected areas.  Their larvae feed on stinging nettle, and form folded-leaf tents that I have described in a previous blog post (see here).  Red Admirals have been spotted near Yakima recently.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - dorsal side

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - ventral side


  1. I was able to take several photos of a Painted Lady on August 17th of this year in Longview. I generally don't have much luck taking pictures of butterflies because I need to get my lens within a couple inches of the subject to get a decent shot. Luckily, this one was intent on feeding from the butterfly bush in my yard. I know very little about this butterfly. From the reading I have done, their migratory patterns are not completely predictable. Since the Painted Lady is a popular species used in butterfly rearing kits, often emerging in May, I wonder how many spring sightings are from released kit specimens and not migratory individuals. Probably impossible to know, but it does make me wonder. Great post Caitlin! Looking forward to checking out more of your posts.

  2. I photographed a nice Red Admiral yesterday. I would be happy to share the photo. I live in Sequim.

    1. Hi Teddie, thanks for the report! Nice to know they are still out there as the season is winding down. If you'd like, you can submit the photo with pertinent information to either eButterfly ( - I help vet records for WA and OR on this site) or BAMONA ( Both are great ways to view and submit records.


    I took this photo a couple of days ago in the Mount Vernon area ofWashington.