Butterfly fanciers have been positively giddy about the abundance of Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) this year. If you have admired a garden patch of zinnias or cosmos or driven through the countryside this fall, odds are you’ve seen this butterfly. These photos are from Maryland’s Piedmont.
Painted Ladies breed throughout the US and most of Canada, then travel south to overwinter in the southern states’ warmer climate. A few weeks ago, a 70-mile wide mass of migrating Painted Ladies was picked up on National Weather Service radar over Colorado. See the radar image here. That’s a lot of butterflies.
Painted Ladies are one of the most common butterflies in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. Just as they migrate in North America, Painted Ladies also stage annual mass migrations from Europe to North Africa.
Another familiar Lady is the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis). The difference is in the eyes.
You can help migrating butterflies by planting late-season nectar sources like asters, zinnias, cosmos, goldenrod and mistflower. Learn more here.