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Contents > Butterflies > Migrant > Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Pepe Parahua

Vanessa Kershawi (was Cynthia Kershawi)

Distribution & Status Painted Lady Distrubtion Map

Common Migrant sometimes occurring in sizable numbers from October till early December. A local population usually breeds in the summer months and will migrate to other parts of the country, this is when they show up in Canterbury and increase in numbers in other eastern areas.

iNaturalist NZ
Observations map

Scientific Classification More info











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Regular visitor from Australia, sometimes occurring in sizable numbers from October till early December. They do breed here and produce a summer generation from January, but has never established itself yet as they can not survive our winters. I suspect ovum are laid in February and larvae emerge, but at some point the larvae or even the odd pupae succumb to frost. Some years there are large influxes and they become a common Butterfly in these years. This usually occurs when there is a large southwards migration in Australia, which is suspected to be triggered by rains in the outback. This is different from the 'Painted Lady' (Vanessa cardui) found in Europe and the 'American Painted Lady' (Vanessa virginiensis) found in North America. Males are territorial and will chase off other males (sometimes other butterflies) who come to close.

Ovum  In English

Usually laid singularly on underside of foodplant leaves near the base of the plant, however they are laid on the upperside of the leaves if it's a bushy plant. Sometimes several ova maybe laid on the same leaf. They are translucent green in colour and barrel-shaped with 13-15 vertical ribs. They hatch in about 7 to 12 days. The day before hatching, the black head and greyish body appear through the shell. Upon hatching, the larva chews around the crown and pushes it up to leave, then usually most of the shell is eaten by the newly hatched larva for its first meal. Ovipositing is very quick as the female will land on or near a leaf, then walks along it, gives it a chemical suitability test and if it passes, lays a single ovum. The whole process lasts less then 1 minute.

Larvae  In English

Variable in colour from brown through yellow-grey to green. It has a pale strip along top and sides. Hairy head and numerous short branched setae along sides and back. The larvae live about 2 months in New Zealand and have 5 instars.

1st instar larvae are greyish-yellow upon hatching they soon change to green. They have long fine hairs and a black head. It takes about 5-7 days until its first moult. 2nd instar develops a dark-brown longitudinal stripe. It takes a further 7 days to grow to about 4.5mm. 3rd instar larvae develop a more predominant longitudinal line and begin to develop a yellowish lateral line and more defined setae. Their body will start to become more brownish. It takes a further 7 days until its next moult. 4th instar larvae develop orange-brown setae. The body also darkens further, apart from the ventral surface, which remains grey in colour. This instar lasts about 7 days as well. 5th instar larvae look similar to the 4th instar and grow to about 35mm.

They feed at any time of day when they are in their shelters. These shelters are made from silk, which grow with them until the final instar when they are too big for most foodplant leaves and may make a day shelter in debris at the base of the foodplant. Before pupating, they spend about 2-3 days building a large loosely webbed cocoon, before hanging head-down in a 'J' position on a leaf with their anal prolegs attached to a silken pad. Grows up to 35mm when fully grown.

Pupa  In English

Variable in colour from pale grey though yellowish-brown to reddish-brown with darker brown markings. It has a brown lateral line from the end of the wings to the cremaster. Often has silver spots on the grey variety and gold spots on the brown variety. It has a long narrow shape with angular projections. They are approx 18mm in length. The pupa is located in a nearby sheltered spot inside the large cocoon hanging by a cremaster. Pupation lasts between 14-18 days.

Imago  In English

The imago has a 40-60mm wingspan with a striking pattern of black, orange, brown and white. The orange has a pink tinge to it for the first 2 weeks, which then fades to orange. The undersides look like tree bark or rough stone, so is well camouflaged when resting on tree bark. It has a low, rapid and direct flight with continuous wing beats, which appears orange in flight. This flash of orange can be confused with the Meadow Argus until it has settled. However the Meadow Argus has a flight that includes gliding with its wings flat, plus it is a rare visitor, so any such confusion is far less likely in New Zealand then in Australia. It usually sunbathes flat on the ground, but sometimes on trees, where it will position itself head down. They will align themselves with the sun so casting a minimal shadow and only open it's wings when the sun is shining, otherwise it will keep them closed which makes them almost impossible to see.


An open country and garden butterfly that is seen in most types of habitat since it's foodplants grow in most habitats from the foothills to city gardens. Often seen sunning itself on banks, boulders and paths. It can be seen with Red and Yellow Admirals on hilltops in the afternoon.

Food Plants

Eggs have being recorded on Arctotis, Chrysanthemum (Asteraceae family) and Scotch Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), but the resulting larvae do not survive past the first instar on these plants. Successful larvae have been observed on Capeweed (Cryptostemma) and Cudweed (Gnaphalium). There are limited results, usually causing malformations on Everlasting daisies (Helichrysum bracteatum) and (Helichrysum bellidioides). If there are not enough leaves, then they will eat flowers. Individuals reared on Capeweed (Cryptostemma) produces foul-smelling imagos. Other foodplants have being recorded in Australia, but do not appear to be used in New Zealand.

Lifecycle of the Painted Lady

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