Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly

American Lady Butterfly

American Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly

West Cost Lady Butterfly

West Coast Lady Butterfly

This is a web site to coordinate observations of territorial behavior, migration, life history, population studies, seasonal variations in abundance and body size, and number of broods per year (voltinism) of butterflies in the genus Vanessa, including Vanessa atalanta, V. cardui, V. virginiensis, V. annabella, V. tameamea, and V. kershawi. (Red Admiral, Painted Lady, American Lady, West Coast Lady, Kamehameha Butterfly, and Australian Painted Lady).

Although the lady butterflies of the genus Vanessa are not as familiar or as well-studied as the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), their behavior and migration are likewise well worth observing. Much remains to be discovered about their habits and how their behavior and seasonal distribution varies by geographic location. Observers and experimenters ranging from casual to serious can discover new and valuable information about these butterflies. The list above links to more detailed information, including summaries of published findings and methods for observing these fascinating butterflies.


Royce J. Bitzer, Ph.D., Department of Entomology, Room 10 Genetics Laboratory, 2333 Pammel Drive, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, U.S.A.
Phone: (515) 451-9057   e-mail: mariposa@iastate.edu

This site was most recently updated on April 11, 2019.

Recent News

April 11, 2019

As I was writing here last month, I’ve been following the enormous Painted Lady migration that’s been happening in California and the Southwest since late January to early February.  While this migration continues northward, it’s now also time to turn more attention eastward as wind and weather patterns have become favorable for Red Admirals and American Ladies to migrate northward into the upper Midwest,  the eastern states, and southern Ontario.  Painted Ladies may be arriving in our area somewhat later this spring, perhaps from the west, or perhaps from a smaller population that overwintered in Texas.

Red Admirals have arrived in the upper Midwest, and are already here in Iowa – they seem to have come with the warm southerly wind last Saturday, April 6, resulting in sightings in central Iowa's Story and Boone Counties on that day.  They were also spotted in Omaha, Nebraska on April 2, and in Kansas City, Missouri on April 5.  Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch, spotted his first two in Lawrence, Kansas on April 6th, while suggesting that Red Admirals could have arrived there a few days earlier.  A first-of-the-season Red Admiral was also seen on April 8 in Kingsville, Ontario, near Point Pelee National Park.

Since yesterday, it's likely that any further northward Red Admiral movement will be literally stopped cold (at least temporarily) by an enormous low-pressure system passing through the northern Great Plains, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  This storm has brought us two days of high winds in central Iowa, and heavy snow in states to our north.  To our south, temperatures were in the 60s F in southern Iowa and in the low 80s in Kansas.  Under these conditions, any additional Red Admirals arriving from farther south might stop migrating and accumulate in these areas, resulting in a sudden increase in the number present.

-- Royce Bitzer, April 11, 2019

March 19, 2019

Painted and West Coast Ladies are not the only butterflies in the western United States to be undergoing an outbreak. California Tortoiseshells have also been present to abundant in some places in northern California and Oregon where Painted Ladies probably have not yet arrived in any large numbers.  They look like this: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1447798.  While they are interesting butterflies in their own right, and worthy of further study, they are not Painted Ladies, so please be careful not to confuse the two when reporting Painted Lady sightings.  Also, according to a March 18 posting on DesertLeps, California Tortoiseshells have also become abundant in the area of southern California around the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, replacing the Painted Ladies, which are surprisingly not that common there now and seem to have mostly departed the area.  However, Painted Ladies were still abundant in southern California on March 16 near the Mescal Range in San Bernardino County, CA, about 138 miles (222 km) to the north-northeast; no California Tortoiseshells were observed there. 

-- Royce Bitzer, March 19, 2019 

March 12, 2019

The ongoing Painted Lady migration is well underway, after a seeming delay in some areas due to cool weather.  Large numbers were passing through Palm Springs, California on and before March 2, 2019, and some of these butterflies were observed flying westward.  They also became abundant in the Las Vegas area around March 4, and continue to be present there in large numbers.  Most recently, an enormous swarm has been flying northward through the Los Angeles area, both yesterday and today, March 12.  Painted Ladies are now widespread throughout southern California, including in Borrego Springs, where an extensive northward migration was underway on March 11.  In Yuma, in the southwestern corner of Arizona, Painted Ladies have likewise been flying in huge numbers for the last two to three weeks, mainly in a northwestern direction.  The entire outbreak was likely triggered by considerable local rain associated with the current El Niño event, followed by prolific blooms of desert annuals and growth of larval food plants.

Although the butterflies have often been reported as flying generally northward, there seems to be substantial local variation in flight direction in much the same way as occurred during a similar large and well-observed migration from February through April 2005, as you can see by looking at our flight direction map for that interval.  Once there, check the Painted Lady box, enter that range of dates, and zoom in to see the directions of the arrows and get an impression of how the migration proceeded and spread during spring 2005.

-- Royce Bitzer, March 12, 2019

February 18, 2019

Painted Ladies have been appearing in the desert Southwest since early February, and large numbers of migrants have been spotted in several locations in southern California and northwestern Mexico since February 15.  What will happen next?  Will this be a typical outbreak of the kind we see every few years?  Or is this just the start of another phenomenal Painted Lady explosion to match the continent-wide migration of 2017? 

Although conditions seem favorable for this generation to multiply and migrate, what seems to precipitate the rare extensive and enormous migration waves is for the next several spring and summer generations in their turn to encounter optimal conditions to thrive and breed - timely rainfall, abundant nectar plants, abundant larval food plants - wherever they might go.  If that happens - and it's by no means certain at this point - we could be looking at another peak year for Painted Ladies.  We'll just have to wait and see.  In the meantime, please keep watching for them and reporting your sightings!

-- Royce Bitzer, February 18, 2019

January 24, 2018

The Red Admiral and Painted Lady Research Site will have a new format, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.  Revisions have been underway for the past several months, and we have been reviewing and editing the changes during the past three weeks.

Among the changes will be a new interactive Google map with more options for viewing observations by a specific range of dates (rather than simply by a range of months as in the map we've had), as well as for viewing all the observations for a particular month or set of months over two or more years.  These changes allow the map to show more specific periods of time during migrations, as well as multi-year seasonal ranges of each species of butterfly.  The new map also offers both roadmap and satellite views, to make both viewing existing points and adding new observations easier, and map points of any color will also show up much more clearly against the new backgrounds.  Clicking any point on the map will now show its geographic coordinates as well as all of the information shown previously.  We have also revised the page for entering new observations.  Besides searching for a location by name or clicking on the map, you will now have a third option to directly enter your latitude and longitude.  Wind directions and butterfly flight directions on the entry form are also defined more clearly than before.

--Royce Bitzer, January 24, 2018