Watch for these common garden visitors in just about any yard!
If you have a garden, you're sure to have American lady butterflies. These black-marked, rusty-orange fliers are common backyard visitors, refueling on nectar in flower beds from spring through fall.
Adults feed on more than 38 types of nectar-rich plants and are common visitors to yards and open areas from southern Canada south into Venezuela. The butterflies have a global presence as well. They stray as far north as Newfoundland and have established colonies in Europe and the West Indies.
In tropical and southern climes, the mid-sized butterfly flits about during most of the year. Farther north, the butterflies generally appear from May through August. One of the hardiest of the Vanessa species of butterflies, the American lady is often confused with its similarly colored cousin, the painted lady (Vanessa cardui).
Both boast rusty-orange wings with black patches and borders and white dots. It's the markings on the undersides of the hindwings that differentiate the two. The American lady displays two large blue-ringed black eyespots, while the painted lady has five smaller eyespots.
In the spring, look for American ladies feeding on blooming shadbush and chokeberry shrubs. In summer, they sip from lantana, purple coneflower, yarrow, daisies, zinnia, borage, heliotrope, common milkweed and other familiar garden flowers. In autumn, they're likely to dine on asters, mums and goldenrods.
If you cultivate the caterpillar's preferred host plants, including sweet everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) and pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), you'll take in up-close views of the egg-to-pupae metamorphosis. Adults lay single dome-shaped, yellowish-green eggs beneath the leaves' hairy covering.
Each egg produces a colorfully spotted and striped black caterpillar that weaves its own silky nest amid the plants' flower heads. The solitary caterpillars often pupate in their larval nests, turning into dark-striped yellow chrysalides with two conical projections at the head.
American ladies are prolific breeders, producing up to four generations of caterpillars annually. An American lady's summer form is larger and more vibrant than that of a winter-emerging adult, which is smaller and drabber in hue.
While American ladies appear to have a wide range, they are primarily considered a southern species. In autumn, they fly south
to overwinter in warmer areas. Come spring, they migrate northward all the way up to Canada.
In summer, they take up residence in backyard landscapes all across the country to feed, breed and delight observant gardeners. To get on their radar, just plant flowers!