Vanessa virginiensis
American Lady

Family Description:
Alternate Common Names:
American Painted Lady, Hunter’s Butterfly, Virginia Lady.
Note: This species was formerly known as Vanessa huntera. This and the other Painted Lady butterflies are sometimes grouped in their own genus or subgenus, Cynthia.
Caterpillar: The caterpillar ranges in color from white to yellow. It is marked with wide black rings (or half rings, covering the back and part of each side) spotted with reddish orange and/or white, alternating with sections of thin black rings. Each wide black ring bears black branching spines. The caterpillar can reach a maximum, full-grown length of 1 3/8 inches.
Adult: The butterfly is medium to large in size, with a wingspan of 1 3/4 to 2 5/8 inches. The outer edge of the forewing is slightly scalloped, and the wing tip is elongated and squared off. The upperside of the wings is pinkish orange to deep orange. The forewing is marked with uneven patches of black, and the tip is solid black spotted with white. Along the leading edge, about a third of the way in from the tip, is a bar of golden yellow; below the bar is a single white spot in a patch of orange. The hindwing is marked with a curved row of spots, some of which are black and some of which are blue ringed with black, followed by a row of black triangles. Underneath, the forewing is pink towards the base and mottled brown and white towards the tip. The underside of the hindwing is mottled and marbled with brown and white. Near the outer edge is a band of brown marked with two large eyespots.

This species ranges from southern Canada to Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, for at least part of the year. It occurs in parts of northern and central Idaho.

It can be found in a variety of open areas, such as meadows, gardens, and vacant lots.


Caterpillar: Caterpillars feed on the leaves of many species of plants from the sunflower family (Asteraceae), particularly species of everlasting (Gnaphalium spp., Anaphalis spp.) and pussy toes (Antennaria spp.).
Adult: Butterflies drink nectar from a variety of flowers.

Individual young caterpillars live in nests made from plant hairs tied with silk; older ones construct nests of leaves tied with silk. There are two to four generations of caterpillars each year through much of its range, and many all year long in the extreme south. Adults generally fly from April to November. Butterflies may migrate north, but not to the extent of the other Painted lady species. Adult and pupal forms are capable of overwintering in a physiological state called diapause, and this may be the only species of Painted Lady capable of surviving a northern winter.

Males perch on hilltops in the afternoons and evenings to wait for receptive females. Yellowish green eggs are laid singly on the topsides of the leaves of host plants.

Idaho Status: Unprotected nongame species.
Global Rank:

G5; populations are widespread, abundant, and secure.

Ferris, C. D. and F. M. Brown. (eds.) 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain States. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, USA, 442 pp.

Opler, P. A., H. Pavulaan, and R. E. Stanford. 1995. Butterflies of North America. Jamestown, North Dakota, USA: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page. (Version 05Nov98).

Opler, P. A. and A. B.Wright. 1999. A Field Guide to the Western Butterflies.   Second Edition.  Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, USA, 540 pp.

Pyle, R. M. 1981. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, New York, USA, 924 pp.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 583 pp.

Stanford, R. E. and P. A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of Western U.S.A. Butterflies (Including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico). Published by authors, Denver, Colorado, USA, 275 pp.