Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz



Adults. Wingspan 60–72 mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; very short-bodied. The eyes hairy. Antennae reaching noticeably over halfway to the wingtip. The antennal clubs abrupt; flattened (blunt, pale-tipped). Labial palps ascending. Having only 4 fully developed legs (forelegs with two tarsal joints and brushlike in males, those of females having 4 tarsal joints with short setae). Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically blunt. The outer and hind margins angled at about 100–105 degrees. The outer margins concavely curved; scalloped. Uppersides of the forewings light brown, or orange-brown; rather contrastingly dark-veined; without a discal mark; basally dark, with an irregular interrupted black antemedian fascia, the black apical area enclosing white spots.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; not tailed; with the outer margins scalloped. Uppersides of the hindwings light brown, or orange-brown; rather conspicuously dark-veined; conspicuously patterned; without a discal mark; coloured like the forewings, being darkened basally and having subterminal and terminal rows of dark spots.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings colour-pattened as a pallid representation of the uppersides; not dark-veined (the venation less conspicuously marked than on the upper surface); inconspicuously eye-spotted. The eye-spots 2 (these very small, black-ringed and white-centered); posterior towards the apex.

Undersides of the hindwings complexly patterned light brown, with pale blotches, pale lines, and subterminal row of small blue-centred and black-ringed eye-spots; not dark-veined (the venation less conspicuously marked than on the upper surface); eye-spotted. The eye-spots 4–5; mid-posterior. Undersides of the hindwings without metallic markings.

Wing venation. Forewings 12–13 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein to with 2 tubular anal veins (the upper one relatively weak); the anal veins of the forewings comprising 1b and 1c; vein 1b simple. Forewings without a discal cell (with no transverse vein between veins 4 and 5). Forewing veins 8 and 9 out of 7, 10–12 separate.

Hindwings 9 veined; with a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein complete (i.e. continuous, but weak between veins 4 and 5). 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined (connate).

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs broadly conical; longitudinally ribbed (with fine cross-ribs forming bosses where they join the longitidinal ones). The larvae with rows of bristly spines; exposed feeders to concealed feeders (protecting themselves by sewing together the leaf edges). C. cardui chiefly on thistles, but occasionally on Arctium, Echium or Urtica.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned; with shining-metallic markings (golden and silvery); exposed, with no coccoon; suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle.

British representation. 2 species (including 1 adventive). Cynthia (Vanessa) cardui (Painted Lady), Cynthia virginiensis (huntera, (American Painted Lady). The adults abroad May to June (the immigrants), or August to October (their offspring).

Status in Britain. Common occurrence in Britain entirely reflecting regular immigration (C. cardui), or adventive (the North American C. virginiensis).

Distribution. Northern Scotland, southern Scotland, northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. Famously migratory, strong sustained fliers, sometimes gliding, the males conspicuously territorial. The practically cosmopolitan genotype represented by C. cardui is somewhat obscured when the Australasian component, formerly and not unreasonably recognised as a subspecies, is promoted to specific rank as C. kershawi following van Son (1966). The closely similar imagines can be compared in the acompanying illustration.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Nymphalidae.

Illustrations. • Cynthia (Vanessa) cardui (Painted Lady): photos. • Cynthia (Vanessa) cardui (Painted Lady): egg, larva, pupa. • Larvae and pupae of C. cardui and Vanessa atalanta: Duponchel (1849). • Comparing Cynthia cardui (Painted Lady) and C. kershawi (Australasian Painted Lady): photos. • Cynthia (Vanessa) cardui (Painted Lady: Hübner/Curtis). • Cynthea (Vanessa) virginiensis (American Painted Lady: Shaw & Nodder).

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.