Painted Lady Butterfly

Description

The Painted Lady is a long-distant migrant which arrives in Ireland in early Summer. They are a large butterfly (wingspan of 5-9cm) and are identified by the black and white corners of its mainly deep orange, black-spotted wings.

4 Stages of the Butterfly Lifecycle

The lifecycle of the Painted Lady has four stages and takes approximately 21 days.

1 - Egg

Adult female butterflies lay their eggs on plants that Painted Lady caterpillars like to eat, like thistle. The eggs are the size of a pin-head, each one containing a caterpillar beginning to grow.

2 - Caterpillar

Once the caterpillar hatches, it uses its strong jaws to munch through leaves, eating constantly and growing quickly. As it eats, the caterpillar’s skin gets tighter. Soon it sheds this tight skin, emerging with new skin underneath. Each caterpillar changes skin four times before it is fully grown. After three weeks, this hairy, black and yellow caterpillar stops growing - it’s almost 2 inches long.

3 - Chrysalis

The caterpillar finds a safe place to rest. With a silk thread that comes out of a hole just below its mouth (spinneret), the caterpillar spins a silk pad to attach to. The caterpillar hangs from this pad. Soon, the caterpillar’s skin splits open, from head to abdomen, revealing a shiny green case underneath—the chrysalis.

4 - Butterfly

Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar is becoming completely liquid and reforming itself into a butterfly. The butterfly pushes from inside and slowly struggles out, until the case splits open. When the butterfly first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and crumpled. The tired butterfly rests, and then slowly unfolds its wings to dry. After a few hours, the butterfly will be ready to fly. During that time, its main goal is to reproduce and lay eggs so the cycle can begin all over again.

The Migration

The Painted Lady carries out the most spectacular migration of all the butterflies that travel to Ireland each year. In early summer they take on the mammoth migration from the desert fringes of Morocco, travel through mainland Europe, across the Irish sea to reach Ireland. They can cover up to 2000km in as little as a month, quite an achievement for such a fragile little animal. Painted Ladies travel to Ireland to escape the intense summer heat of the desert. Until recently it was thought that it was a one-way migration to Ireland and that they died here, however, it has just been discovered that Irish born Painted Ladies actually make the return journey to Africa flying at high altitudes which previously went undetected. This ensures Morocco has enough butterflies to send our way the following summer.

Energy

They can be seen feeding on a wide range of plants, but in Ireland adult butterflies are most commonly seen sipping on sweet thistle nectar. Mallows and Common nettles have also been recorded as larval food plants.

Conservation

Populations of Painted Ladies seem to be healthy but many of their wintering sites are unknown, therefore it is difficult to protect them there.

Other Names

Common Name: Painted Lady Butterfly
Irish Name: Áilleán
Latin Name: Cynthia cardui

Fun Fact

In 2009 Ireland and the UK witnessed an extraordinary number of Painted Lady Butterflies arriving on our shores. There were reports of clouds of these flying insects arriving en-masse. The reason for this went all the way back to a heavy rainfall in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco - the heaviest in 30 years - which caused a strong growth of the food plants of the Painted Lady caterpillars. Within weeks waves of these butterflies were crossing the Mediterranean and making their way to Ireland.

View Migration Map

Photos