The American Lady butterfly is found over the southern half as well as the eastern half of the US.
They are medium sized butterflies with wing spans up to 2 5/8 inches. American Lady butterflies are normally found close to the ground unless they are drinking nectar from flowering trees.
The American Lady greatly resembles the Painted Lady Vanessa cardui and the West Coast Lady Vanessa annabella.
American Lady butterflies have two large spots on the underside of their hind wings. Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies have more and smaller eye spots underneath their hind wings.
American Lady eggs are green and quite small. They blend into their host plant better than many species of butterfly eggs.
American Lady caterpillars make nests in their host plants. The use silk to sew together bits of seed fluff and/or leaves. When they are not eating, they rest in their nests. Because early morning dew on their nests shines in the sunlight they are easily seen early in the day. Larger caterpillars often make nests of the leaf mass at the base of their host plants.
American Lady caterpillar visible in the opened nest in the top of a cudweed host plant.
While they are eating, caterpillars can be found on the ground or on the plant itself. Most of their host plants are weeds that gardeners pull from their gardens and mow in their lawns.
Cudweed, Pussy Toes, Pearly Everlasting, Rabbit Tobacco, and a few other plants are their host plants. Although Burdock is listed as a host plant, we were not able to coax them to eat it. They would literally starve before taking a bite of the plant.
Caterpillars are normally sage green and burgundy, textured and colored somewhat like an exotic carpet. Caterpillars curl into a tight circle when they are disturbed. Lying on the grass or ground, these caterpillars are difficult to see. Colors vary slightly, as you can see by the colors in this photo.
When a caterpillar prepares to pupate, it hangs in a J from a silk pad it made with silk from its spinnerets. Its spinerrets are located underneath its head. It hangs in a J position from its anal prolegs. The day after it hangs in its J, it will simply wriggle out of its cuticle (skin) to become a chrysalis.
When the caterpillar pupates near green leaves, it will be a fantastic yellow/green iridescent chrysalis. The chrysalis shines in the light.
When the caterpillar pupates near anything dark, it becomes a gray dull chrysalis.
This species not only pupates different colors according to its surroundings, it also pupates dull or bright and shiny, according to its surroundings.
After emerging from the chrysalis, adult American Lady butterflies drink flower nectar and drink over-ripe and rotting fruit. You can add fruit to your garden by creating a moat. This feeder is simply a flower pot saucer filled with water, a flower pot turn upside down in the middle of it, and a smaller saucer placed on top. Fruit is added to the top saucer and water to the bottom saucer. Fruit can also be hung from a tree branch/twig or placed in a bird suet feeder.