Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Painted Lady

I gave a program on fall warblers last night in Darke County, at the nature center at Shawnee Prairie Preserve. This is an interesting place, and many prairie plants have been planted around the building.

As I walked into the place with my gear, I couldn't help but to notice a number of one of our showiest butterflies, the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. They were nectaring primarily on sunflowers in the genus Silphium, and lucky for me I'd thrown the camera in the car.

Painted Ladys don't do well trying to overwinter in cold climes, and ours are probably all immigrants from the south. Some years, there are very few; in other years Painted Lady can be fantastically abundant. There are historical descriptions describing tens of thousands seen in Ohio in boom years, but that's not the norm. This species resembles the American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, but differs above in having more black markings among other characters.

Painted Lady is especially striking on the underwings, which are elaborately scribbled with fine line drawings and also beset with small dots. The similar American Lady would have two much larger eyespots rather than the four small spots of this species.

While often uncommon and local here, this may be the widest ranging of any butterfly. In addition to North America, they occur in Africa, Europe, and Asia. In North America, they are only found as permanent residents in Central America and Mexico, but northward immigrants have been founds as far north as Alaska.

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