Vanessa kershawi Click to enlarge image
Australian Painted Lady, Vanessa kershawi on flower Image: David Gray
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    kershawi
    Genus
    Vanessa
    Subfamily
    Nymphalinae
    Family
    Nymphalidae
    Super Family
    Papilionoidea
    Order
    Lepidoptera
    Class
    Insecta
    Subphylum
    Uniramia
    Phylum
    Arthopoda
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    6 cm

Introduction

The Australian Painted Lady is common in Sydney's urban backyards.

Identification

The Australian Painted Lady Butterfly has pale brown underwings and a delicate pattern of orange and brown on the upper wings, with tiny blue eyespots on the hind wings. The larvae are brown and spiky with a pale yellow stripe along each side.

Habitat

The Australian Painted Lady lives in urban areas.

Seasonality

'Painted ladies', as a group, have a reputation for their mass migrations. Australian Painted Ladies in New South Wales migrate in great numbers in spring, moving on a front that extends for about 580 km inland from the coast. This migration can continue for up to eight weeks, with the main movement being in a south to south-westerly direction. Larger numbers in some years may be related to higher than average winter rainfall in the months preceding a migration, particularly in inland regions. A smaller return flight has been reported between February and April, with adults flying northwards. During the migration, adults maintain a rapid, direct flight about 2 m above the ground. In 1889, it was reported to migrate in such great numbers that they blackened the sky. Trains were unable to get traction because so many butterflies were resting on the tracks! Such mass migrations have not been reported for some time.

Feeding and diet

The caterpillars of the Australian Painted Lady feed on native everlastings and other daisies, as well as the introduced Capeweed (Arctotheca calendula), Scotch Thistle (Onopordum acanthium) and Lavender (Lavendula officinalis).

Other behaviours and adaptations

In 1889, the Australian Painted Lady was reported to migrate in such great numbers that they blackened the sky. Trains were unable to get traction because so many butterflies were resting on the tracks! Such mass migrations have not been reported for some time.