American Lady

Vanessa virginiensis

Family: Brushfoot (Nymphalidae)

Life History: Round year in the south. Adults hibernate in the winter. Three to four broods April through October.

Range: East coast into portions of the midwest; present on the west coast. Sparse to absent in the Dakotas, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, etc.

Identification: Can be challenging to distinguish from the Painted Lady; essential to know key field marks.

Antennaria plantaginifolia Full to partial sun Medium to dry soil 12 inches tall Blooms April to June Bloom color white

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Vernonia gigantea Full to part sun Medium wet soil 5-8 feet tall Blooms August to October Bloom color purple

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Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium Full sun Medium to dry soil 2–3 feet tall Bloom time July to September Bloom color white Annual

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Life Cycle

Leaves during the winter before flowering in the spring
Cudweed flower head
Early instar
Very early instar American Lady caterpillar
Caterpillar nest
The caterpillar makes a nest out of silk and chewed up leaves and flowers
Inside the nest
Gently opened nest to reveal the caterpillar living inside
Mid instar
Mid instar caterpillar
Late instar
Ready to pupate
White or gray colored chrysalis
Yellow colored chrysalis
American Lady
Dorsal wing view of the adult butterfly
American Lady
Ventral wing view showing the two prominent eyespots on the hindwing
Raising American Ladies

Though this butterfly has a wide range of host plants, so far I have only found them on cudweed. It’s easy to find caterpillars—just look for the nest made of silk and chewed up leaves at the top of the plant.

The caterpillars do well being left on cudweed until late instar. Hand-raising them earlier is fine; cudweed stays hydrated in a DIY vase.

The American Lady is a full-time resident in Orange County, NC. It is typically one of the earliest and latest butterflies to be seen in the yard.

Additional host plants include pussytoes, ironweed, wormwood, and pearly everlasting.

Raising Tips

  • Cudweed can be found in “weedy” lawns, roadsides, fields, and other grassy areas.
  • Caterpillar nests are easily spotted.
  • Cudweed will keep hydrated in DIY vase cups.
  • Caterpillars do fine raising themselves. Raise late instar caterpillars inside a critter cage to help protect the chrysalis.

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