The American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis and Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui add a twinkle to any bloom they land on. Though plants and their flowers have a unique beauty of their own, the animation butterflies add is pure magic . . . not to mention their importance as pollinators.
When seeing these brightly painted butterflies in the gardens, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. Both American Lady and Painted Lady adults will go for a diverse range of nectar sources. Their appearances are more akin than their lifestyles which vary in caterpillar food choices, distribution and overwintering tendencies.
Note the solid black dots along the bottom of both upper side hindwings in the Painted Lady, where as the American Lady dons marks more similar to eyespots on its upper hindwings. I find the tiny white dots on the orange of the forewings of the American Lady a helpful hint too. There are many other differences but once these clues are fixed in our memories they stand out clearly in defining the butterflies.
An American Lady nectaring on an Erigeron speciosus conveniently reveals the above mentioned marks, as well as, the important two large eyespots on her underside hindwing. The Painted Lady below wears four smaller eyespots on her underside hindwing. When the wings are folded this is a definitive telling in identifying these two ladies. The American Lady is also a bit smaller than the Painted Lady.
The American Lady has two larger eyespots while the Painted Lady sports four smaller eyespots on the underside of the hindwings. I will be looking for caterpillars of the American Lady on Edelweiss when I visit nurseries this spring and look forward to welcoming these two beauties back to Flower Hill Farm gardens and fields in the upcoming months.