Vanessa cardui | Painted Lady | Áilleán



Conservation status

Ireland: Least Concern (Regan et al., 2010)
Europe: Least Concern (van Swaay et al., 2010)
Climate risk category: Potential Climate Change Risk; present distribution in Europe can be explained by climate to only a limited extent (Settele et al., 2008)

Legal status

The Painted Lady is not afforded legal protection in Ireland.

Native status

Common Migrant

Species Biology


Key identification features include:

  • Large size, wingspan: 58 - 74 mm
  • Bright white spots on dark tips of upper forewing
  • General black and orange colouration with an absence of red banding as in the Red Admiral


Generalist on unimproved dry grassland, lightly-grazed improved grassland, fallow crops and field margins. In sunny conditions the adult flies actively, and nectars on various flowers, especially purple ones (Bond & Gittings, 2008).

Flight period

Migrant adults can appear early in spring, but more often from mid-April to about mid-June. The main flight season is, however, in late summer, peaking in mid-August to mid-September, but numbers fluctuate greatly from year to year, and few if any specimens are recorded in poor migration years.

Life cycle

Eggs are laid on the upper surfaces of the leaves of the foodplant; placed singly, but often with several on one plant. The larvae feed from a silk pad on the underside of a foodplant leaf, and show an unwillingness to move elsewhere even when food becomes scarce. They occur from about June to September, and are unable to withstand prolonged cloud or damp, even in summer. Where pupation is possible, the pupa is usually lightly attached to leaves. The species in considered incapable of overwintering in any stage in Ireland (Bond & Gittings, 2008).

Food plants

The larva feeds primarily on Thistles (Cirsium vulgare and C. palustre), but Creeping Thistle (C. arvense), Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare) may also be used.

Flowers visited

Generalist, the adult’s nectar sources include primarily Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.), but Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), Hawkweeds (Hieracium/Hypochoeris), Heather (Calluna vulgaris / Erica spp.), Ivy (Hedera helix), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) are also used.


World distribution(GBIF)

Temporal change

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2022

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Bond, K.G.M. and Gittings, T. 2008. Database of Irish Lepidoptera. 1 - Macrohabitats, microsites and traits of Noctuidae and butterflies. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 35. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, Ireland.

Regan, E.C., Nelson, B., Aldwell, B., Bertrand, C., Bond, K., Harding, J., Nash, D., Nixon, D. and Wilson, C.J. 2010. Ireland Red List No. 4 – Butterflies. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Ireland.

Settele, J., Kudrna, O., Harpke, A., Kühn, I., Van Swaay, C., Verovnik, R., Warren, M.S., Wiemers, M., Hanspach, J., Hickler, T. and Kühn, E. 2008. Climatic risk atlas of European butterflies. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft.

Van Swaay, C., Cuttelod, A., Collins, S., Maes, D., López Munguira, M., Šašic, M., Settele, J., Verovnik, R., Verstrael, T., Warren, M., Wiemers, M. and Wynhof, I. 2010. European Red List of Butterflies. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.