The Monarch may be the king among butterflies, but the Painted Lady is undoubtedly the queen, for she ranges where even the Monarch does not go, in the hearts of Africa and South America. The Painted Lady can be quickly told from the similar Virginia Lady (Vanessa Virginiensis) by more numerous eye-spots on the under sides of the hind wings; while she will not be confused with the West Coast Lady (Vanessa Carye) if one notices that the Painted Lady has rounded tips to the fore-wings, while the West Coast Lady’s are square.
Where the thistle blooms, there flies the Painted Lady. Sometimes this strong-winged flyer is seen only as a rare individual, flying with frayed and tarnished wings along a dusty path. Sometimes the egg laying ability of this queen of the continents creates great migrating swarms that swish their bright orange and black wings through the air of fall until auto radiators are plastered with them and fields are dark with their dashing passage. Winter finds some of the adults hidden in dark corners, hanging in a nearly dead state awaiting the warmth of spring.
The keg-shaped, light green egg is laid chiefly on different species of thistles, but also on mallows, sunflowers, hollyhocks, and, rarely, on cultivated plants such as alfalfa and lettuce. The almost transparent, violet-hued caterpillar has seven rows of black and white spines. The bronze-brown chrysalis presents a warmly beautiful sight in the sunlight.