Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady, Distelfalter, La Belle Dame)

Vanessa cardui, also called Painted Lady or Distelfalter is a common butterfly from Palaearctic ecozone (Europe). The first description was in 1758 by Linnaeus. With a wingspan of 5.0– 6.5 cm the Painted Lady is a small member of the family NYMPHALIDAE. The butterfly is brown and has black and white spots. The Painted Lady is a migrant butterfly with a nearly worldwide distribution.

Photos for easy identification

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer, 10.09.2006
Photo © by Mario Maier ([email protected])
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; 23.07.6 Botanic Garden Vienna

These are nice photos of Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady, Distelfalter, La Belle Dame). Vanessa cardui is a member of the family NYMPHALIDAE from Palaearctic (Europe).


The forewings are brown. On the wing leading edge there is a big white spot. The pinion is black and there is a chain of little white spots. There is a chain of big, black spots on the wing.
The underside is a copy from upside, but there are some differences. The pinion is grey. Nearby the body there is a pink area. 

The hind wings are brown. At the margin there are three chains of black spots. In the middle of the wing there is a black spot.
The underside is brown and marmorate. At the margin there is a chain of little eyes.

The body is brown.

Sex differences: None


The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui ) is a global player among butterflies. The distribution include all ecozones without the Neotropic ecozone. You can see the Red Admiral until 2000 m sea level.

This world map shows the ecozones in which this butterfly is distributed.

Flight period

The flight period of the Painted Lady is from May to September.

Larval food

Thistle, Stinging-nettle, Bur, Coltsfood

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer

General information

The first description of this butterfly was in 1758 by Linnaeus. There are no subspecies.

The caterpillar is grey, green or black and it is thorny. The pupa has no silken girdl. This species overwinters as imago.

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer

Here you can see the caterpilla of Vanessa cardui.

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer

Here you can see the pupa of Vanessa cardui.

Photo © by Rudolf Faustmann

Protection provisions / Red List

Similar and closely-related species

Vanessa atalanta [Linnaeus, 1758] (Red Admiral, Admiral, Le Vulcain)

Scientific name

Vanessa cardui Linnaeus 1758


 Painted Lady
 La Belle-Dame,  La Vanessa des Chardons
 Bella Dama o Cardero
 Tistelfjäril; Tistelfuks
 Rusałka osetnik
Babočka bodláková
Babôčka bodliaková

Classification / Taxonomy / Family tree

To the family tree (Genus: VANESSA)...




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Back to family Nymphalidae from PALAEARCTIC (EUROPE)


Apatura iris
Inachis io
Nymphalis antiopa
Apatura iris
Vanessa atalanta
Papilio machaon
Pierides sp.
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