Better with Butterflies: Painted Ladies
Written by Carin Ashman, UF/IFAS Extension Clay County Master Gardener Volunteer
This month I want to address the spiritual aspects or symbolism of butterflies across world cultures. Because of their unique lifecycle from humble crawly eating machine into a many colored, graceful flying insect, butterflies symbolize transformation, rebirth, hope and resurrection in many cultures and religions.
In parts of Asia black butterflies may represent bad luck and death, but white and yellow ones are portents of good luck and hope.
In many sub-Saharan cultures butterflies represent the change from girl to womanhood.
In Japan they are often seen as the spirit of a recently departed loved ones visiting and in many Native American cultures they are associated with the transformation of spirits. Whatever your personal beliefs may be, we cannot help to have all our spirits lifted by the beauty we find when studying butterflies.
I was lucky enough the attend the annual butterfly release held at the Fleming Island Library by the Garden Club last month. They invite children to help release hundreds of Painted Lady butterflies and the joy on the little ones’ faces assured me that we are passing on our passion for preserving these beautiful creatures.
Painted Ladies or Thistle Butterflies are quite small with a 1.75-2.5” wingspan. They have the largest worldwide distribution of all butterflies. Their two main migratory patterns are between northern Europe and north Africa and on our side of the world they leave Mexico in the spring, spend a generation or two feeding on desert flowers in the southwest to continue north as spring moves on. They do appear but are not common in northern Florida.
You can distinguish them from other orange and black patterned butterflies by the fact that they have white spots in the black areas of the upper forewings only, not in the orange. The undersides of their wings are beige with a row of blue ‘eyespots’. The Larva vary in color but are commonly yellow gray with black mottling. They feed on a variety of plants including thistle and cudweed.
Join me again next month when we will investigate the Great Southern White and the different butterfly family names. For additional information please visit