Painted Ladies in the Garden

We haven’t seen a Monarch since last weekend, but today there were several Painted Lady butterflies fluttering around the Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) and the various Rudbeckias.


With the sunlight filtered through them, their wings remind me of stained glass windows.


The Tithonias are really holding up very well, considering it is October 1st. Usually they are falling apart by now. The blue sky and orange flowers make a lovely backdrop for this pretty butterfly.


I always get confused trying to distinguish Painted Ladies from the closely related American Ladies. However, thanks to the excellent website Butterflies and Moths of North America, I’m now clear on the distinction. Basically, Painted Ladies have 4 smallish eyes on their underwing (see them in the photo above?), while American Ladies have two larger eyes.



While the wings of Painted Ladies are lovely, they have odd faces. Though I suppose that they’d say the same of people.


I know this is a terribly out of focus, but it’s the only photo I could get with more than one Painted Lady. As you can probably guess, I took these pictures rather than Judy.


There was also this unusual Skipper. Maybe it’s a trick of the light, but it seems more orange than brown. Also it looks like it is dipping its head in order to feed on the nectar. I didn’t think any kind of butterfly could move its head that way. Anyone have an ID on this guy?


Painted Ladies have many host plants, but two of their favorites are Hollyhocks (Alcea) and Thistles (Cirsium). I’ve been thinking of planting some native Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) and/or Russian Hollyhocks (Alcea rugosa) in order to encourage more Painted Ladies in the garden. The Field Thistle has a taproot and does not spread aggressively, while the Russian Hollyhock is supposed to be resistant to rust.  If only I could figure out where to put them.

That’s all for now.

49 Comments on “Painted Ladies in the Garden

  1. Great shots of the butterflies! I yanked my spindly Tithonia that I grew from seed out of my front bed a few days ago. They didn’t do well this year, despite our hotter than usual summer. They just don’t like our climate.

  2. I love the photos of the butterflies, so what is the trick to taking photos of them? They always seem to fly off just as I’m about to take the photo….maybe I need more interesting flowers..

  3. Pretty painted ladies and good to know how to figure out the difference between the two varieties. The last little critter looks more like a moth than a flicker. Planted my tithonia in partial shade this year and they did very well, surprisingly. I could sit on my couch and watch the bees, summers, and butterflies frolic.
    Enjoyed the Japan pics, it was a trip down memory lane. Thanks!

    • Didn’t know there were moths that were active in daytime – always learning something new. Glad you liked the Japan photos. There are lots more coming. When were you there?

      • I was in Japan in Mar/Apr of 2012 with my son, his wife, and my 6 yr old grandson. We stayed w/my daughter-in-law’s mother, south of Tokyo. She took us around Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto, and also went to Odawara and Nara. Stayed 5 days in Kyoto in a 100 year old house! It was an amazing trip of temples, shrines, and gardens. There’s nothing quite like staying with a native who knows how to get somewhere taking 4 trains!
        Looking forward to hearing more about your trip, Jason.

  4. I have not heard of a Russian Hollyhock. I have had a hollyhock in the garden all summer. It is just now making rust. Bah humbug. I like your photos of the butterflies on the tithonia. The bug feeding in the odd way looks like a moth to me. No knobs on the antenna. I don’t know what kind.

  5. I agree, Painted Ladies have spectacular markings. Our population has peaked in the past week or two also. I tend to see more of them in late summer/early fall so I’m thinking it’s their lifecycle timing. I agree with a previous comment, that your insect in question is a diurnal moth. Looks like Speranza brunneata (maybe?).

    • Didn’t know that moths could be diurnal. I’ve also noticed Painted Ladies in July when the ‘Summer Beauty’ Alliums bloom.

  6. Lovely photos. We are in Denver for vacation, and have seen hundreds and hundreds of Painted Ladies. The asters at the Denver Botanic Garden were covered with them, and they would rise in clouds if you got too close. They made what I think is the most gorgeous botanical garden I’ve ever been to even more special.

  7. Beautiful. Although I haven’t seen any painted ladies, I did see a monarch just last week. It’s so late in the season, I hope it has enough time to successfully make the journey south.

  8. I’m with Judy. Your garden is sure to on any Midwestern butterfly’s itinerary. Also, such an informative post.

  9. Wonderful Tithonia-butterfly pictures! I like Tithonia also. But here it’s a little bit difficult to get seeds. But in the past I also had them sometimes in the garden.

  10. I’ve had more monarchs this summer than I’ve ever had before. I had at least 24 caterpillars and lots of adults. My tithonia was a bust this year but, of course, I’ll try again next year!

  11. What marvelous photos, I loved the blue sky and vibrant oranges, and of course the butterflies and moth. You have some beautiful

  12. I’ve had so many painted ladies in the garden this past month–more than I usually see all season! Beautiful photos.

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