Thursday, July 30, 2020

Painted Lady Butterflies and Mallow

The Painted Lady Butterfly, or Vanessa cardui, is one of the most common butterflies in the United States. In doing a search, I was pretty surprised to see that this butterfly has a worldwide distribution. It seems that this species has figured out how to adapt to various climates and multiple food sources.

Fairfield and Vacaville California were within the migration route of a group of Painted Lady butterflies in the late spring/early summer of 2019. Besides utilizing thistle and thistle-type plants, the Painted lady also utilizes the leaves of mallow as a foodsource.

Mallow is a very common weed in Northern California and can often be found as a very common weed in this area. I recently discovered that it is a very effective edible plant to aid in digestion as well. There are a number of people who forage leaves from mallow for salads and cooking. 


Though Painted Lady butterflies will often lay their eggs on top of the leaves, they sometimes lay eggs on the underside of the leaves as well. The young caterpillars begin completely black and slightly fuzzy. Over time, they develop more fuzz and color until they pupate in their chrysalis form.

Fortunately, I happened to save some eggs from a nearby undeveloped lot (which was weed-whacked shortly thereafter). The little caterpillars that hatched from these were raised until almost full-grown. Being that my youngest daughter (who I collected the caterpillars for) did not take very good care of them and being that I was very busy, I saved half a dozen for us to finish raising while we put the rest on some obliging mallow plants.

Along the sidewalk of an empty lot.

The color of both the caterpillars and the adults seemed to vary a bit. I'm not exactly sure if that means that one is a male while the other is a female or that I had a couple different subspecies that I was raising.

If your children are young, and you get the chance - definitely raise some butterflies. Raising small insects that grow quickly can be almost magical for children. Although most children enjoy it, I found that as children mature, the novelty can definitely be much less appreciated.

Mallow next to a walkway

Mallow along a path.

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