The family Nymphalidae is the largest butterfly family and includes about 6,000 species
which are further divided up into 12 subfamilies. The common name for the family
is the Brushfoots or Brushfooted Butterflies. This strange name is because the first
pair of legs are significantly reduced, sometimes to mere stubs, and look like little
brushes. Some of the most common and well known species are in this group such as
the Monarch, Red Admiral, Blue Morpho and Painted Lady. Some of the longest lived
butterflies are in this family with some species living over 10 months as adults.
The Brushfoots are distributed worldwide, with the highest diversity found in the
tropics. With this variety, there is also quite a difference in behavior, adult
food choices and habitat preference from species to species.
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Vanessa virginiensis belongs to the subfamily Nymphalinae. This species is widespread
and in some years migrates far from its normal ranges. It is found from the southern
United States, Mexico and Central America south to Colombia. It migrates to and
temporarily colonizes the northern United States, southern Canada, the West Indies
and Europe. It is a rare stray to Newfoundland and Labrador. It can be found in
most any habitat including most open places with low vegetation such as dunes, meadows,
parks, vacant lots and forest edges.
The larval food source includes many plants in the sunflower family such as everlasting,
Gnaphalium obtusifolium, pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, plantain-leaved
pussy toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, wormwood, Artemisia sp., ironweed, Vernonia
sp. and burdock, Arctium sp. During the afternoon, males perch on hilltops or on
low vegetation if there are no hills. Females lay eggs singly on the top of host
plant leaves. Caterpillars are solitary, living and feeding in a nest of leaves
tied with silk. Adults hibernate.