Butterflies of the Indian subcontinent
Painted Lady
Vanessa cardui  LINNAEUS, 1758
subfamily - NYMPHALINAE
Vanessa cardui  Kajelnada, West Sikkim, India Adrian Hoskins
The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world, found throughout Europe and temperate Asia, over most of Africa, Madagascar, the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Arab states, and throughout the Indian subcontinent including Sri Lanka. In the Far East it occurs in Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. Its range extends south through the Indonesian islands to Western Australia. It also occurs in North America, on most Caribbean islands and in Venezuela.
The cosmopolitan distribution of the species results from a combination of its very strong migratory behaviour and its polyphagous nature - in Europe the caterpillars feed almost exclusively on thistles, but elsewhere in the world they use a vast range of foodplants amongst the Malvaceae, Compositae, Labiatae, Boraginaceae,  Ulmaceae, Rutaceae, Urticaceae, Rosaceae, Verbenaceae, Rhamnaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Leguminosae, Chenopodiaceae, Hydrophyllaceea, Convolvulaceae, Plantaginaceae,  Cruciferae, Umbelliferae and even one or two grass species !
A feature common to most migratory species is that there tends to be very little variation in pattern between individuals. Apart from minor variations in colour a Painted Lady from N.America or Europe will be identical to one from Africa, India or Australia.
Due to its migratory nature the Painted Lady can be encountered in any almost any habitat - heaths, open areas within forests, grassland, rice fields, urban gardens, city parks and town centres.

The pale green eggs are laid singly on the upper surface of leaves of the foodplants. The caterpillars hatch in less than a week. They eat their eggshell after hatching and then begin feeding on the lower cuticle of the leaf, leaving distinctive patches visible on the upper surface. Shortly afterwards they spin a silk web on the underside of the leaf. When older they eat the entire leaf with the exception of the central vein and the spines. The mature larva is black and has a prominent yellow broken stripe along each side. It lives and feeds within a tent of leaves spun together with silk. These silk tents in which the conspicuous droppings are enmeshed, make the larvae easy to find. When fully grown the larva spins together a new tent of leaves, within which it pupates. The chrysalis is greyish pink, with an overall golden lustre.

Adult behaviour

The butterflies are powerful flyers and habitually fly from flower to flower, stopping for just a few seconds at each to take nectar. They visit a wide range of species including cultivated flowers.

Males establish territories intersections on forest roads, or around field edges. They also commonly gather at hilltop sites where courtship and copulation take place.

Vanessa cardui  New Delhi, India Bodhisattwa Dasgupta


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