London (change)
Today 9°C / 5°C
Tomorrow 10°C / 10°C

The painted lady


by Richard Jones

In the Horniman Museum Gardens earlier today and a brightly coloured butterfly caught my eye as it visited a low dandelion flower.


ButterflyIn the Horniman Museum Gardens earlier today and a brightly coloured butterfly caught my eye as it visited a low dandelion flower. I skulk up to it and discover a painted lady, Cynthia cardui. This is only the third I have seen this year.

A native of North Africa and Southern Europe, it migrates north each year with the good weather, establishes new breeding colonies and the local offspring move north again. It reaches the UK most years, and sometimes in spectacular numbers; 2005 and 2006 were good years, at least in southern England.

The thing that caught my attention with this one was its size - it was tiny. Usually a large brightly coloured species to rival the closely related red admiral, Vanessa atalanta, and the peacock, Inachis io, its wingspan is quoted as up to 75 mm across. Even though I caught the diminutive Horniman specimen in my hands, it is virtually impossible to judge insect size with any degree of accuracy unless you have a ruler to hand. I guess its span was something in the region of 50 to 55 mm.

In insects, small size is sometimes attributed to poor nutrition during the larval stage. Since painted lady caterpillars feed on thistles, food shortage seems unlikely...unless, perhaps, the recent poor weather meant that its feeding was curtailed. Wild speculation?



Discuss this blog post

Talkback: The painted lady
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2007 at 12:00

We had a Painted Lady in the garden on the 28th of October. Any advance on that date.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/10/2007 at 12:31

Reply to Morning Glory and Tony Williams: Painted ladies certainly favour thistles, but like most butterflies they will visit what ever is available at the time and in the place they find themselves. October 28th is a late date, but these are powerful and long-flying butterflies which easily cross hundreds of miles if the weather and following winds are with them. The warm halloween weather may yet bring more of them.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:29

A few years ago I had a crop of teasels in the garden, the flowers were covered with Painted Lady butterflies. Do they prefer teasels to other plants? I had never seen a painted lady before this.