Painted Ladies Are Back

Mar 31, 2009

The painted ladies are back.  

No, not the Victorian and Edwardian homes painted in three colors. No, not women wearing excessive amounts of makeup and pounding the sidewalk with their stiletto heels. 


"Another Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) migration is occurring in north-central California," reports noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro of UC Davis. "Painted Ladies showed up very early in the region, in late January, and there are hints of overwintering and breeding somewhere in south-central or southern California somewhere north of the usual desert breeding grounds along the Mexican border." 

Why hints of overwintering and breeding? Because the insects "were in good condition and did not appear to have migrated long distances," Shapiro says. "They also did not show the usual color-and-pattern signs of having been generated in the desert, but they were not produced locally in the Davis-Sacramento region and were seemingly confined to the west side of the Valley."

 Shapiro reports that the  first wave from the desert showed up in mid-March. "We received reports of significant numbers migrating through the Sierra at Mammoth Lakes as of March 15."

We saw them last weekend passing through parts of Solano and Yolo counties. They were moving fast and flying low.

"These butterflies are powered by yellow fat carried over from the caterpillar stage and fly like 'bats out of hell' from the Southeast to the Northwest a few feet off the ground, not stopping for food or sex until their fat reserves become depleted," Shaparo. He spotted a few feeding and one female was laying eggs.

Shapiro is updating the migration on the home page of his Web site.  It's a must-read.  You can learn more about Painted Ladies inside his Web site.  See also pages 48-51 and 195-200 of  his Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions (University of California Press, 2007).

Got a migration report or a video to offer him for his Web site? You can email him at

Meanwhile, those Painted Ladies are absolutely gorgeous. We've heard far too much about ballistic bailouts, burgeoning bonuses and mortage meltdowns--and not enough about the Painted Ladies. 

Bring 'em on!

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

PAINTED LADIES are now passing through north-central California. This one passed through during the 2005 migration. (Photo courtesy of Arthur Shapiro)

Painted Lady