Skip to Content

Painted Lady Butterfly: 4 Easy Clues to Identify

Painted Lady Butterfly: 4 Easy Clues to Identify

While out on a walk, I spotted the first butterflies of the season in early May in the Colorado Mountains, the Painted Lady Butterfly or Vanessa cardui. At first, I thought I saw Monarch Butterflies, but as soon as I pulled my camera out, I saw the slight differences through the zoomed lens.

Overjoyed to see butterflies about, I sat right down in the sidewalk and watched them. I found the Painted Ladies in almost every patch of dandelions that I came across. As I followed one with my camera, I also discovered the White-Lined Sphinx Moth, which only fueled my enthusiasm. Another mostly gray and brown moth visited the same area, but I have yet to identify it.

All three species floated around the same dandelion patch for quite some time feeding and they all kept their own space. A bee later visited as well. This dandelion patch seemed to have it all going on that day.

How do you tell the difference between a Painted Lady and a Monarch Butterfly?

4 Easy Clues to Identify a Painted Lady:

  1. As the Painted Lady unfolds its wings, you’ll see mostly orange with three layers of black dots on the outside of the hindwing.
  2. On the unfolded wings, the forewings will have a black and white design on the tips that extends more into the wing than a Monarch’s outer black edge.
  3. Where the wings meet the abdomen, the Painted Lady has a greenish brown color. This extends from the abdomen onto the closest quarter or so of the wings.
  4. When the Painted Lady butterfly closes its wings, four eye like spots show visibly on the outer third of the wings.

With those 4 clues in mind, the Painted Lady has a lot of other cool facts as well. I thoroughly enjoyed journaling about them. Scroll down to discover more.

Underwing view of butterfly on a dandelion.
Four eye-like spots on the underwing.





Life History:

  • Lay eggs on top of host plants
  • Larvae eat the leaves then make silk nest for metamorphosis
  • Pupa break open nest and continue changing
  • Adult breaks out of pupa and has a two-week lifespan


One of the most widespread butterfly species spanning all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

Painted Lady Butterfly & The Journal

Two page journal spread with sketch, photo, and text.
Two page journal spread on Painted Lady Butterfly

Diving into the nature journal, I started with finding the best pictures from sitting on the sidewalk watching the butterflies. I began sorting and editing until I found a clear photo of the wings spread wide enough to see the detail. I wanted to see a clear view of the wings because it helps immensely while I attempt a sketch.

With that photo, I tried to depict the different sections of the wings in detail while maintaining the black and white design that I like. This sketch took longer than most, but I did save time since I normally only draw one side of the wings. As both sides are identical, I did not waste space in the journal drawing both.

When I chose the photo for this journal spread, I wanted to use the one I sketched, however, I opted for one that showed the distinctive eye-like patterns of the underwing. I had a harder time drawing those, so the photo did it better justice than my clumsy sketch.

I used both my trusty go-to guide to begin, the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Field Guide and then the Peterson Guide to Insects.

Head view of butterfly on a dandelion.
View of the head, antennae, and tongue while feeding.