Painted Lady

The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui


This beautiful butterfly migrates into the country every year, in very variable numbers, so that some years go down in history as “Painted Lady” years. The overall impression is of a peachy coloured butterfly with black and white flashes on its wings. This is a fresh-looking individual:

There are some remarkable colours and patterns on the under wings:

The underside of the Painted Lady is quite, quite beautiful:

Photographed at Temple Ewell, near Dover, on the 15th of August, 2013.


The Painted Lady is most likely to be come across in a Hadlow garden, later in the year, probably on a Buddleia or other autumn flowering shrub. This will probably be a “second generation immigrant” having been “born” and “grown up” in this country.

Occasionally you will see them moving strongly across country, potentially anywhere in the parish, on migration in one direction or another.

Photographed at St Margarets-at-Cliffe, near Dover, on the 15th of August, 2013.

Earlier in the year such as July you may find somewhat worn individuals sunning themselves on paths, such as this one near Stallions Green. These will have battered themselves over the weeks since they arrived from the continent.

Photographed on the path leading north from Stallions Green, Hadlow, on the 3rd of July, 2019.

The migration causes waves of butterflies to arrive normally in the UK from a southeasterly direction around June, but their UK distribution does not reflect this – they can be found all across Britain and Ireland – right up to the Shetlands.

This Painted Lady was seen in June, so that is really quite early in the year, down by Whetsted Gravel Pits in the very south of the Parish, sunning itself on one of the paths there. It is really quite freshly and brightly coloured. Had it just flown in from the continent?

Photographed at Whetsted Gravel Pits, Hadlow, on the 1st of June, 2014.

This butterfly is a multi-generational mass-migrator and it is a very interesting question – where is its home? Some would say that it originates in North Africa and circulates around Europe, reaching Britain in the NorthWest and then heading off towards Poland in the East, ending up back in the deserts of Africa again after about NINE generations of travelling!

Life cycle

The main larval food-plant species in the UK are thistles. These holes were on thistle leaves found beside the Bourne, and might have been caused by Painted Lady caterpillars.


Predators and parasites