Meet the Lovely American Lady Butterfly

Learn how to identify an American lady butterfly and caterpillar. Plus, see how it looks different from a painted lady butterfly.

What Does an American Lady Butterfly Look Like?

Bnbbyc19 Lisa Young 3Courtesy Lisa Young

The American lady butterfly has wings that show a mixed pattern of mostly orange from above, including a small white spot within the orange. Forewings also feature a black patch and a white bar at the wing’s edge. The underside of its hindwings has two large, dark eyespots, which sets it apart from the painted lady. The butterfly’s wingspan measures 1 3/4 to 2 5/8 inches.

Bnbugc Deborah Billings 3Courtesy Deborah Billings

“I was just learning to use my camera when I captured this gorgeous American lady butterfly (above) on a white coneflower in my yard. Photography is a great hobby that gives me a closer look at the incredible beauty of butterfly wings, which I could not see otherwise,” says Birds & Blooms reader Deborah Billings.

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Habitat, Caterpillar & Host Plants

American Lady CaterpillarRick & Nora Bowers / Alamy Stock Photo
American Lady caterpillar

Habitat: Open areas, including fields and gardens
Caterpillar: Coloring on the American lady caterpillar varies, but it is typically yellow or black with bands wrapping around. Look for white spots on abdominal segments and large spines accented by reddish bases.
Eggs: Pale green
Host Plants: Plants from the Asteraceae family, including sweet everlasting, ironweed and pussytoes
Range: Most of the U.S. and southern Canada

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American Lady vs Painted Lady

Bnbbyc16 Charles Miller 003 OriginalCourtesy Charles Miller
Painted lady butterfly

At first glance, American lady and painted lady butterflies look similar. However, there are a few distinct differences that help distinguish them from each other. For the American lady, check for two large, bold eyespots on the underside of each hindwing.

If there are more spots on the hindwing, you’ve likely spotted a painted lady instead. The painted lady’s hindwings have four spots, rather than two. In addition, keep an eye out for a small white spot within the orange patch. It’s a key field mark of the American lady’s that the painted lady lacks.

Bnbbyc17 Jason BadenCourtesy Jason Baden
American lady

“Butterflies are one of my favorite things to observe and photograph. Getting a picture of this American lady (above) in my current home of North Carolina brings back childhood memories of my family farm in upstate New York,” says Birds & Blooms reader Jason Baden.

Next, learn all about the common buckeye butterfly.

Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate editor for Birds & Blooms digital. Throughout her years with the publication, she has written multiple articles for print as well as digital, all covering birding and gardening. In her role as associate editor, she is responsible for creating and editing articles on the subject of birding and gardening, as well as putting together Birds & Blooms daily digital newsletter. Graduating from the University of Missouri - Columbia with a master's degree in magazine journalism and undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, she has more than eight years of experience in the magazine, newspaper, and book industries.