Painted Lady Butterflies in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

Painted Lady Butterflies in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. May 12, 2019.

Back in March, a profusion of painted lady butterflies in Southern California made headlines. The colorful insects were said to be passing through the area on their way to Oregon and other points to the north.

Two months later millions of the black, orange and white butterflies continue to be seen in the West San Fernando Valley, Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch), and other areas. Recently there has been an uptick in their numbers and there have been some remarkable displays of the flyers along local trails.

Painted lady in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve with the characteristic four eyespots on the hindwing.
Painted lady in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve with the characteristic four eyespots on the hindwing. Click for a larger image.

There are three very similar species of “lady” butterflies in the genus Vanessa — the painted lady (Vanessa cardui), the American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and the west coast lady (Vanessa annabella). The Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility web site has a side-by-side comparison of these species and this post on BugGuide.net compares the American lady to the painted lady.

The lady butterflies I’ve looked at closely in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve have the identifying characteristics of the painted lady (Vanessa cardui). Here are an open-wing photo and a closed-wing photo of painted lady butterflies in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

This three-minute slow-motion video of painted lady butterflies in upper Las Virgenes Canyon reveals their fluid, bird-like flight. The purple flowers in the video are winter vetch, an introduced plant which is also more abundant this year.

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