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:

This site was most recently updated on March 1, 2018.

Recent News

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

October 6, 2017

A second wave of migrating Painted Ladies arrived in central Iowa and eastern Nebraska on September 28 when a cool front passed through our area. It had been looking as if the first wave that had arrived on September 5 was about finished, and then all of a sudden there were many more again. These butterflies were generally smaller than those in the first wave, and unlike them, were a mix of different sizes and degrees of wing wear and wing damage. Many of them seem to have ridden the wind toward the west-southwest, reaching the Denver/Boulder, Colorado area on October 3, when the National Weather Service in Boulder spotted radar echoes that they first attributed to migrating birds. They soon realized that the echoes were due to large numbers of Painted Ladies flying northwest with the local winds occurring at that time. Their observation came at the same time that large numbers of Painted Ladies suddenly appeared in Denver for the second time this fall:

From USA Today: Massive Wave of Butterflies Lights Up Denver Weather Radar

From BBC News: Butterfly swarm shows up on Denver radar system

Wind flow patterns from October 1 to today show a persistent low-pressure system in the Denver area with winds spiraling in towards it, sometimes from nearly the entire range of compass directions. From what I’ve seen so far, I think that many of the Denver butterflies sailed from the upper Midwest on west-southwest winds, reaching Colorado in about five days and then dropping downward into the vortex of the low-pressure center.

--Royce Bitzer, October 6, 2017

September 5, 2017

Painted Ladies are active and abundant in northern Iowa and North and South Dakota.  They have been observed there during the weekend either gathering in large numbers or actually migrating.  They also seem to be getting ready to migrate here in central Iowa.  Their population here has been building up for weeks, with many nectaring on prairie wildflowers.  Now that the winds have turned northerly and the air has cooled, there seems to be a new urgency to their activity.  This morning, they have been milling about around roosting trees and beginning to head southward.  More soon.  I'm off to watch them this morning and record their flight directions.

Royce Bitzer, September 5, 2017

June 21, 2017

If you live in Iowa, have you been seeing the abundant Red Admirals that have emerged or arrived within the past 10 days? Following a rain in the Ames area on June 13, Red Admirals were suddenly all over the place the next day. I went outside on the Iowa State University campus on the afternoon of June 14 and saw dozens of fresh new ones nectaring in a linden tree. Many more are present now than there were before this outbreak occurred.

Another place I saw many fresh ones was at Orange City on the morning of June 15. These seemed to be localized within a limited area of northwest Iowa, because I saw only one butterfly near Sutherland and none near Newell on the same day. The Orange City butterflies, however, didn’t seem to have been induced to emerge by recent rainfall, since that part of the state missed out on the rain that reached most of Iowa on the 13th.

I also received a report of 200 nectaring in a linden tree near Marshalltown, also on June 15. There was also a "huge" Red Admiral hatch near the Iowa Arboretum, just west of Luther, during the same week. Their numbers were "incredible!"

Who else has been seeing them, and where? These large numbers seem to be occurring in some parts of Iowa and not others. For example, on June 16, I was in the Mason City and Eagle Grove areas (north-central) and didn’t see any near Mason City, and only two near Eagle Grove, even though the weather conditions were as favorable then as they had been in northwest Iowa the day before.

-- Royce Bitzer, June 21, 2017

June 19, 2017

Painted Ladies have been on the move this spring. Their first generation this year may have gotten started in southern California during the enormous February-April bloom of desert annuals that provided abundant food plants for their caterpillars. Although there didn't seem to be a widespread Painted Lady outbreak across California - instead I received reports of small numbers there for the most part - there have been scattered reports of large outbreaks in the western U.S. and Canada between early April and now. These include:

Nevada southwest and west of Las Vegas: April 3 - 5, 2017. On April 3 and 4, Painted Ladies were flying from east to west at rates of 5 per minute or more for periods of 4 and 6 hours respectively. Activity had greatly decreased on April 5, with only about 10 spotted during a half-hour period around 10 a.m.

Medford, Oregon: May 2, 2017.  An observer completed a point count of Painted Ladies at 2:30 p.m., observing 168 butterflies per hour flying generally east-southeast to west-northwest (the starting time wasn't mentioned).

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Mid- to late May 2017. Painted Ladies were present in large numbers here since perhaps the middle of May. Hundreds were seen nectaring on a linden tree on May 26.

Alberta, Canada, between Red Deer and Edmonton (south to north) and Alder Flats and Innisfree (west to east): Painted Ladies have been abundant in this area since about June 5, and continued to be as of June 17.

Northwest Iowa, Orange City and near Calumet: June 15. Fresh Painted Ladies were locally abundant in Orange City and also at Iowa State University's Northwestern Research Farm south of Calumet. About 20 were seen within a half hour at each location. Another observation suggested that this abundant population was somewhat localized on June 15. Two other sites near Newell, in west central Iowa about 60 km southeast of Calumet, had only a few or none on the same date. Nor were Painted Ladies present farther east in the Mason City, Eagle Grove, or Ames areas on June 16, although weather conditions were likewise favorable.

If you see Painted Ladies in your area, including larger numbers such as described in the above reports, please report them here or on our iNaturalist project page,

-- Royce Bitzer, June 19, 2017