Nature in Canada: Painted Lady Butterflies

Throughout the late summer and early fall, Montréal was greeted with a gorgeous influx of painted-lady butterflies, also scientifically known as Vanessa cardui of the Nymphalidae family. They were visible fluttering about over nearly every floral surface, with their distinctive brown upper-hind white-spotted wings and beautiful 42 to 66-millimetre yellow and salmon coloured wingspan. These butterflies particularly enjoy the nectar from plants such as blazing star, aster, ironweed, cosmos, sunflowers, milkweeds, buttonbush, and joe-pye weed, which are around three to six-feet tall. It is likely that most of the visible painted-lady butterflies are male, as they usually perch on and search through plants throughout the day for hidden females and food. The male’s behavior will differ depending on the region it inhabits, with those in the east perching in open areas and those in the west perching on higher grounds. Their caterpillar larvae are a mixture of yellow-green, purple, and black, residing in little silk leaf nests.

The Painted-Lady Butterfly has a phenomenal habitat range across deserts, tundra, suburban gardens, open plains, and dense forests, having been sighted everywhere except on the continents of Antarctica and South America. In the case of North America, these butterflies originate in Mexico and migrate northward at 300 to 400 metres in the air to arrive in the United States during the summer months. Although they do appear in Canada, it is only on rare occasions such as this year. They will only make the journey this far if the winds are strong enough and if there has been a surplus of offspring, leading them to require more area coverage to meet all their foraging needs. Here is one of these far-reaching travellers in Southern Quebec, which I had the fortune of capturing in this wonderful image. Hopefully you will have or have had the chance to see some of these painted ladies!


  1. Hall, Peter W, Lafontaine, J. Donald, and Ross A. Layberry. (2002). The Butterflies of Canada: Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) (Linnaeus, 1758). University of Toronto Press; 1998. URL:
  2. Parrillo, Felicia. (Sept 18 2017) “Painted lady butterflies invade southern Quebec.” Global News. Accessed: Oct 23 2017. URL:
  3. Unknown, Author. “Painted Lady Vanessa cardui.” Metalmark Web & Data. URL:

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