A Painted Lady Butterfly Is a Flying Work of Art

Learn how to attract and identify a painted lady butterfly and caterpillar. Find out what they eat and what host plants you should grow.

How to Identify a Painted Lady Butterfly

Bnbbyc18 Catherine PouriaCourtesy Catherine Pouria
Painted lady butterfly on a sunflower

A painted lady butterfly has an orange and black patterned upper wing with white dots and four or five black dots along each hindwing. Underwings have a dark brown and tan segmented design with four or five dots on the hindwing’s edge. Their wingspan is 2 to 2 7/8 inches.

Check out 6 common swallowtail butterflies you should know.

Painted Lady Habitat

You can spot a painted lady butterfly in nearly every habitat, but they prefer open grassy areas, gardens and fields. Painted ladies live on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and many oceanic islands. They are among the most widespread butterflies in the world!

Meet the red admiral butterfly and learn how to attract them. Plus, here’s how to identify a red-spotted purple butterfly.

Painted Lady Butterflies’ Host Plants

painted lady butterflyCourtesy Charles Miller
Painted lady butterfly sitting on a frog

This butterfly uses a variety of host plants (more than 100!), but prefers thistle, hollyhock, mallow and many legumes.

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What Does a Painted Lady Butterfly Eat?

You may see them sipping nectar from thistle, aster, cosmos, ironweed and blazing star. Check out more summer nectar flowers that attract butterflies, and discover how to attract butterflies in 9 easy ways.

Painted Lady Caterpillar

Painted Lady Caterpillar, Vanessa Cardui, Feeding On SoybeanGetty Images/iStockphoto
Caterpillar feeding on a soybean leaf in Illinois

Painted lady caterpillars are gray-brown or almost black with a yellow stripe down their bodies and spikes along their sides and backs. They show some color variation when in caterpillar stage. Before the pupae stage, look for caterpillars creating silk tents on thistle, one of their favorite host plants.

Plant a caterpillar cafe in your butterfly garden.

Painted Lady Flight Facts

Bnbbyc17 Andreapetersen (1)Courtesy Andrea Petersen

  • Painted ladies can fly at speeds close to 30 miles per hour and cover up to 100 miles in a day.
  • These butterflies have been found at altitudes as high as 22,000 feet, the highest of any butterfly species.
  • European painted ladies migrate to Africa in fall, crossing the Mediterranean and often continuing across the Sahara Desert. Their offspring then return north to Europe in spring. Here’s how to help painted lady butterflies on their migration journey.

Next, meet garden royalty: the viceroy butterfly

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.