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:
- As the Painted Lady unfolds its wings, you’ll see mostly orange with three layers of black dots on the outside of the hindwing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.