Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Painted Ladies, but Were Afraid to Ask!

by: Colleen Solyom


The Painted Lady Butterfly is found all over the world. It is migratory, moving to milder climates for the winter months. Becuase it exhibits a complete metamorphosis in the completion of its life cycle, it is a very interesting life form for the classroom study, requiring about 23 days to go from larvae to release.

Stage 1: The Egg

Painted Lady eggs are green and oval, measuring approximately 1 mm in diameter. They are laid on stems and leaves of the malva plant, a member of the mallow family. The larva breathes through a small hole in the egg. After it emerges, it may consume the remnants of the home it has just abandoned!

Stage 2: The Larva

The larval stage of the Painted Lady takes about 4 weeks to complete. During this time the larva or caterpillar is a voracious eater. It stays near the plant where it was hatched, eating primarily the leaves. In the classroom, if enough food is not available, it will become cannabalistic.

The caterpillar's body consists of thirteen body segments and eight pairs of legs. The three pairs nearest the head become adult legs. The other 'false legs', are used for climbing and are shed when the larva goes through the last of the four to six molts it experiences during its lief cycle. At each of these times, when the caterpillar grows too large for its skin, the skin splits up the back and the caterpillar re-emerges.

Stage 3: Pupa or Chrysalis

As previously stated, at the end of the larval stage the caterpillar goes through a final molt, retaining only its front three pairs of legs. Then it crawls to a sheltered place and hangs upside down from a branch or at the bottom of a leaf (In the classroom it will attach itself to a bit of screen or filter paper on the underneith side of its container lid.

Each larvae spins a knob of thread and attaches its tail to that knob. In about 24 hours the skin splits down the back. Underneith is the chrysalis, which soon hardens and becomes golden in colour. This skin-like casing (not to be confused with a cocoon), protects the life of the developing creature inside. The Painted Lady pupa remains in this delicate resting state from 7 to 10 days.

Stage 4: The Butterfly

The Painted Lady Butterfly has 2 pair of wings. When the chrysalis splits and releases the butterfly, air is pumped into these wings, filling them with blood and unfolding them. It's important that there is space enough for the emerging butterflies to do this (Red spots on the bottom or sides of the cage aren't blood, but extra dye from the wings). The wings dry and harden within the first day of the butterfly's life. Veins on the butterfly's wings give them strength. Those belonging to the same species have the same number and pattern of veins on each wing. They also exhibit identical colours, made up of small scales, on their wings. The Painted Lady has orange, white, brown and black colours on the top wing and white, brown, tan, black, blue and purple colours on the bottom part of the wings.

The new butterfly carries enough food inside it to last several days. After that it sucks out the nectar from flowersthrough its long proboscis or tongue. It has taste receptors on its feet that help it taste sweet liquids. When these receptors contact the petals of a flower, a reflex action is set-off, causing the proboscis to uncoil. Then the butterfly's long, flexible tongue can reach the smallest flower nectar openings.

A butterfly smells and feels with its antennae. It sees in several directions at any time, because its large compound eyes are made up of many smaller, six-sided eyes.

Butterflies have several breathing holes on their abdomens. They also have external organs there, which allow them to mate by flicking their tails. In this way, cells are passed from the males to the female, and her eggs are fertilized. She then uses her sense of smell to locate the malva plant again, and deposit her eggs on its leaves and stems.

The life span of the butterfly is one to three weeks in captivity, depending on feeding. In the wild, butterflies will live longer.


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