Vanessa cardui, larva on thistle, Cirsium sp., Pasture 12, Little Missouri National
Grassland, McKenzie County, North Dakota, 16 July 2005 Ref
Vanessa cardui, Linnaeus, 1758
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 cardui, Kirtland Air Force Base, Bernalillo County, New Mexico, 1 October
Vanessa cardui, Forest Road 55 near Forth of July Campground, Manzano Mountains,
Cibola National Forest, Torrance County, New Mexico, 17 August 2010
Vanessa cardui belongs to the subfamily Nymphalinae. This species is the most widespread
butterfly in the world. One of its other common names is the Cosmopolitan. It is
found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. From the deserts of northern
Mexico, the Painted Lady migrates and temporarily colonizes the United States and
Canada south of the Arctic. Occasionally, population explosions in Mexico will cause
massive northward migrations. This species can be found in almost any habitat, especially
in open or disturbed areas including gardens, old fields and dunes.
The larval food source includes many plants in several families. More than 100 host
plants have been noted and they include thistles in the family Asteraceae, hollyhock
and mallow in the family Malvaceae and various legumes in the family Fabaceae. Males
perch and patrol during the afternoon for receptive females. Females lay eggs singly
on the tops of host plant leaves. Caterpillars live in silk nests and eat leaves.