American Lady

Photo by: Bryan Reynolds

Vanessa virginiensis

The American Lady Butterfly has distinctive coloration and patterning, with orange wings and black tips, somewhat similar to the Monarch butterfly – but what really sets American Lady Butterflies apart is distinctive eyespots visible on the underside of the wings. There are two large white eyespots, one on each wing, usually the forewing. The forewings are slightly concave, distinguishing it from the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, a similar species (which also has four eyespots).

The wingspan of adult American Lady Butterflies ranges between 1.5 – 2.5 inches. The females lay yellow-green eggs on the upper leaf surface of a variety of host plants. Fully-grown larvae are usually one and a half inches in length themselves. These larvae are mostly yellow but some have black markings or stripes fully along their segments. A white band usually traverses the entire length of the larvae. The pupae are less than an inch in length. During metamorphosis, the pupae will assume the typical “J” shape found in this life cycle.

The Vanessa family is characterized by a near-global distribution. Where to spot it depends on the time of year. During the summer, this species may be observed in southern Canada and the northern US (with the exception of the northwest). During the winter, it migratessouth. This variety enjoys the sunshine, with meadows and fields containing its favorite food source: cudweeds, vetch, milkweeds, goldenrod, and pussytoes (among other flowers). Other open environments such as canyons may also house this species. Males can be found on hillsides or in vegetation, when on flat land.

Written by: Robert Gibson, an undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Oklahoma