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American Lady Caterpillar

A nest made of caterpillar silk and debris at the top of a flowering stem makes a safe retreat for the American Lady Caterpillar.


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Image Credit: Alex -icycatelf- Bowen
Full-sized image of the American Lady Caterpillar Thumbnail image of the American Lady Caterpillar
Image Credit: Troy D. from ME
Full-sized image #2 of the American Lady Caterpillar Thumbnail image #2 of the American Lady Caterpillar
Image Credit: Chris D., taken in northern CA
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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae
Genus: Vanessa
Species: virginiensis

Caterpillar Details

Other Names:
American Painted Lady Caterpillar; Dama Dos Ojos; Hunter's Butterfly

The American Lady Caterpillar becomes the American Lady butterfly.

0.1 " to 2.0 " (5mm to 52mm)

black body, yellow bands, yellow rings, two white dots, spiky, black, bristles, hairs, thorns, branching, black head, hairs, red bumps, red dots, orange, yellow hairs, bottom
Image Credit: Arch Baker
Image of american-lady-butterfly.jpg
Adult Form (American Lady butterfly)
View More at www.ButterflyIdentification.org
Black, branching spikes growing out of red-orange dots stick out of the top and sides of the American Lady caterpillar. Picking it up is not advised because of them. Two white dots share each segment with the spiky growths. There are a few color variations that are possible. Some caterpillars have black bands that alternate with a bunch of thin, white or yellow bands. Others are orange or brown with yellow bands.

Eggs for this species are yellow-green, rounded barrels, and are very tiny. They are laid by females on the top of host plant leaves, sometimes in a small cluster and sometimes spaced apart. This larva tends to live alone. A popular group of host plants is in the sunflower family and are called everlastings. They are tall and skinny plants with narrow leaves. Other plants such as pussytoes with their velvety leaves, and wormwood's bitter leaves are also food sources. The caterpillar uses its silk to create a nest of out leaves, usually at the top of the plant. This serves as both a shelter and restaurant, where it nibbles away at the leaves caught inside. During the day, the caterpillar remains hidden inside, and it comes out on cloudy days and at night for more feeding.

The American Lady is the adult form of this caterpillar, a popular and colorful butterfly. Generally, three to four broods can be produced in a year, but this butterfly is present year round in the warmest parts of its range such as the Deep South, Texas, and Mexico.©CaterpillarIdentification.org

American Lady Caterpillar Diet

larvae feed on cudweed; everlastings; pussytoes; wormwood; ironweed; burdock; silver brocade adults drink nectar from aster; goldenrod; marigold; common milkweed; vetch; dogbane; tall verbena; Joe-pye weed

Territorial Areas

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico; New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the southern parts of the Canadian provinces: Alberta; British Columbia; Manitoba; New Brunswick; Newfoundland and Labrador; Nova Scotia; Ontario; Prince Edward Island; Quebec; Saskatchewan; Mexico.
Prince Edward Is.  
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The map above showcases (in blue) the states and territories of North America where the American Lady Caterpillar may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data can be useful in seeing concentrations of a particular species over the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some species are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America.*NOTE: States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Lady Caterpillar. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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