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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status

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General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.5-3.5 cm. Uppersurface orange-brown with darker wing bases, forewing apical area black with white spots and white subapical bar on leading edge, hindwing with a submarginal row of 5 small black spots that sometimes have blue scales; undersurface of hindwing with a black, brown, and gray pattern, 4 small submarginal eyespots.

Several flights throughout the year in Texas, southern Florida, southern California; fewer farther north (Scott 1986). Mostly March and April to October and November (Glassberg 2001). April to October in Colorado (Scott and Scott 1978); early March to late October in Oregon (Warren 2005); early April to early November in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002); May to October in southeastern British Columbia (Threatful 1988).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by a combination of the upper surface of forewing apical area black with white spots and white subapical bar on leading edge, uppersurface of hindwing with submarginal row of 5 small black spots that sometimes have blue scales; undersurface of hindwing with 4 small submarginal eyespots.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Occurs on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. In North America from southeastern Alaska and subarctic Canada south throughout the continental US and Mexico (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002); to 3962 m elevation in Colorado (Scott and Scott 1978); to 3200 m in Wyoming (Nabokov 1953). In Montana, reported from across the state and in every county (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993). Common to abundant, but rare to common in Pacific Northwest (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 38

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Migratory; northward in spring and summer through several generations of adults, last flight southward in autumn (Scott 1986; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002).

Open situations; fields, marshes, montane forest clearings, prairies, dunes, thorn scrub, deserts, suburbs, gardens, to above treeline in alpine terrain (Nabokov 1953; Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). In Glacier National Park Montana, reported from montane mesic meadows (Debinski 1993), but probably occurs in most open situations some years.

Food Habits
Larval food plants very diverse (more than 100 species), with several species of Cirsium especially favored; other species include Achillia, Althaea, Anaphalis, Arctium, Artemesia, Carduus, Centaria, Citrus, Cryptantha, Fragaria, Helianthus, Helianthella, Lupinus, Malva, Medicago, Mentha, Nicotiana, Plantago, Prunus, Rhamnus, Rudbeckia, Rumex, Salvia, Senecio, Solanum, Trifolium, Ulmus, Urtica, and Wyethia (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Achillea, Allium, Alyssum, Anemone, Apocynum, Arctostaphylos, Arnica, Asclepias, Astragalus, Barbarea, Berberis, Buddleia, Calyptridium, Carduus, Ceanothus, Centaurea, hrysanthemum, Chrysothamnus, Cirsium, Cryptantha, Delphinium, Dipsacus, Dryas, Echinacea, Erigeron, Erioganum, Erysimum, Grindelia, Haplopappus, Helianthus, Helianthella, Heterotheca, Jamesia, Lesquerella, Lobelia, Lonicera, Medicago, Mertensia, Monarda, Oxytropis, Penstemon, Phacelia, Phlox, Physocarpus, Polygonum, Prunus, Pyrus, Ranunculus, Rubus, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Sedum, Senecio, Solidago, Symphoricarpos, Syringa, Taraxacum, Thalaspi, Tilia, Trifolium, Verbena, Viburnum, Viola, and Zinnia), rotting fruit, sap, dung, and mud (Pyle 2002; Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs singly on the undersides of host plant leaves (Scott 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011). Eggs hatch in about 6 days (depending on temperature), develop rapidly, take about 21 days from egg-hatch to L5 instar and pupation; adults eclose (emerge from pupae) about 10 days after pupation. Larvae usually solitary, build silk nest completely surrounding larvae on host plant leave. Larvae usually wander before pupating, but some may pupate on host plant. Autumn adults migrate south or die (Guppy and Shaepard 2001; Pyle 2002; Warren 2005; James and Nunnallee 2011), although adults may hibernate in Colorado and some other southern regions (Scott 1986, 1992). Males perch and sometimes patrol, often on hilltop shrubs, awaiting or searching for passing females (Scott 1975).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Debinski, D. 1993. Butterflies of Glacier National Park, Montana. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Natural History, the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. No. 159: 1-13.
    • Ferris, C.D. and F.M. Brown (eds). 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountains. Univ. of Oklahoma Press. Norman. 442 pp.
    • Glassberg, J. 2001. Butterflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America. Oxford University Press.
    • Guppy, C.S. and J.H. Shepard. 2001. Butterflies of British Columbia: including western Alberta, southern Yukon, the Alaska Panhandle, Washington, northern Oregon, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana. UBC Press (Vancouver, BC) and Royal British Columbia Museum (Victoria, BC). 414 pp.
    • James, D.G. and D. Nunnallee. 2011. Life histories of Cascadia butterflies. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. 447 p.
    • Kohler, S. 1980. Checklist of Montana Butterflies (Rhopalocera). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 34(1): 1-19.
    • Nabokov, V. 1953. Butterfly collecting in Wyoming, 1952. The Lepidopterists' News 7(2): 49-52.
    • Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright. 1999. A field guide to western butterflies. Second edition. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 540 pp.
    • Opler, P.A., K. Lotts, and T. Naberhaus, coordinators. 2010. Butterflies and moths of North America. Big Sky Institute, Bozeman, MT. Available at: (Accessed 15 June 2015).
    • Pyle, R.M. 2002. The butterflies of Cascadia: a field guide to all the species of Washington, Oregon, and surrounding territories. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington. 420 pp.
    • Scott, J.A. 1975b. Mate-locating behavior of western North American butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 14:1-40.
    • Scott, J.A. 1986. The butterflies of North America: a natural history and field guide. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.
    • Scott, J.A. 1992. Hostplant records for butterflies and skippers (mostly from Colorado) 1959-1992, with new life histories and notes on oviposition, immatures, and ecology. Papilio new series #6. 185 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 2006. Butterfly hostplant records, 1992-2005, with a treatise on the evolution of Erynnis, and a note on new terminology for mate-locating behavior. Papilio new series #14. 74 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 2014. Lepidoptera of North America 13. Flower visitation by Colorado butterflies (40,615 records) with a review of the literature on pollination of Colorado plants and butterfly attraction (Lepidoptera: Hersperioidea and Papilionoidea). Contributions of the C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthopod Diversity. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University. 190 p.
    • Scott, J.A. and G.R. Scott. 1978. Ecology and distribution of the butterflies of southern central Colorado. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 17(2): 73-128.
    • Stanford, R.E. and P.A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of western USA butterflies: including adjacent parts of Canada and Mexico. Unpubl. Report. Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado 275 pp.
    • Threatful, D.L. 1988. A list of the butterflies and skippers of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, British Columbia, Canada (Lepidoptera). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 27(3-4): 213-221.
    • Warren, A.D. 2005. Lepidoptera of North America 6: Butterflies of Oregon, their taxonomy, distribution, and biology. Contributions of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity, Colorado State University. Fort Collins, Colorado. 406 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Allen, T.J., J.P. Brock, and J. Glassberg. 2005. Caterpillars in the field and garden: a field guide to the butterfly caterpillars of North America. Oxford University Press.
    • Brock, J.P. and K. Kaufman. 2003. Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 284 pp.
    • Caruthers, J.C., and D. Debinski. 2006. Montane meadow butterfly species distributions in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. University of Wyoming National Park Service Research Center Annual Report, 2006. Vol. 30, Art. 14. 85-96.
    • De Smet-Moens, H. 1982. The insect fauna of Canada Thistle Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop in southern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 51 p.
    • Debinski, D. M. 1991. Inventory and monitoring of biodiversity: an assessment of methods and a case study of Glacier National Park, MT. Ph.D. Dissertation. Montana State University, Bozeman. 205 p.
    • Fultz, J.E. 2005. Effects of shelterwood management on flower-visiting insects and their floral resources. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 163 p.
    • Layberry, R.A., P.W. Hall, and J.D. LaFontaine. 1998. The Butterflies of Canada. University of Toronto Press. 280 pp. + color plates.
    • Martin, S. 1933. Serological studies of moth proteins with special reference to specific immune bodies and their phylogenetic significance. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State College. 26 p.
    • Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp.
    • Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p.
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Painted Lady — Vanessa cardui.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from