Butterfly with open wings: mainly orange with black and white and tiny specks of blue

Painted Lady. Photo: Brian Dicker

A pretty butterfly which is a migrant to our country. The numbers that visit the UK vary greatly from year to year, with some mass invasions, the biggest of which was 1996, when Dorset recorded 18,211 on its regular butterfly walks. The next highest year was 2009 with 5,035. The more usual yearly numbers is in the low hundreds.

It is a widely spread butterfly internationally, being found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

Where to see

Habitat: The adults, when they have arrived in this country as migrants, can be found in widespread locations, though particularly open and sunny places with flowers for nectar. The caterpillars (in summer only with a very few exceptions) will be found on thistles of various types.

Caterpillar foodplants: In its native countries the caterpillars feed on thistles and many members of the daisy family.

Best places: No specific sites. In gardens, they will go for almost any nectar source, especially if they have just arrived after a long flight from the continent. They seem to like thistle and allium flowers in particular.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

Any month, but peaks between May and September, though this is very dependent on winds bringing in migrations.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Large

Although this butterfly cannot generally survive our winters (the caterpillar will die below 5 degrees centigrade) it will breed during the summer months, its egg/caterpillar/chrysalis stages only taking 4-6 weeks, allowing several generations in good years.

There is no other butterfly in the UK with similar markings.

It usually settles with its wings open. Underneath, the forewing and hindwing are very different.

Do note that they can vary quite a bit in size, and their colour will fade as they get older, from salmon-pink to dull orange-brown.

They usually fly energetically.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*Please note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.

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