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Genus Vanessa - Ladies and Red Admiral

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui Butterfly or moth? - Vanessa virginiensis Red Admiral Butterfly - Vanessa atalanta American Lady on Pussytoes - Vanessa virginiensis Red admiral - Vanessa atalanta Vanessa virginiensis unknown butter cat on Thistle - Vanessa cardui Butterfly - Vanessa cardui
Show images of: caterpillars · adults · both
Classification
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
Family Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)
Subfamily Nymphalinae (Crescents, Checkerspots, Anglewings, etc.)
Tribe Nymphalini
Genus Vanessa (Ladies and Red Admiral)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Nymphalis Latreille 1804. Genotype: Papilio atalanta Linnaeus. [nom. inval.; later homonym; non Nymphalis Kluk 1780]
Vanessa Fabricius 1807. Genotype: Papilio atalanta Linnaeus
Cynthia Fabricius] 1807. Genotype: Papilio cardui Linnaeus
Bassaris Hübner 1819. Genotype: Papilio itea Fabricius
Pyrameis Hübner 1819. Genotype: Papilio atalanta Linnaeus
Ammiralis Rennie, 1832 Genotype: Papilio atalanta Linnaeus
Phanessa Sodoffsky 1837 [unnecessary spelling change]
Neopyrameis Scudder 1889. Genotype: Papilio cardui Linnaeus
Fieldia Niculescu 1979. Genotype: Vanessa carye (Hübner) [nom. illeg.; preoccupied by Fieldia Walcott 1912 - a fossil worm]
Neofieldia Özdikmen, 2008 Genotype: Vanessa carye (Hübner) [replacement name for Fieldia Niculescu]
Explanation of Names
In his revision of the group in 1971, Field recognized Bassaris and Cynthia as distinct genera, but he has not been followed in his treatment, and they are usually treated as synonyms of Vanessa. Bassaris, as recognized by Field, does not occur in North America, but Cynthia does, and it is not uncommon to see the name still used occasionally for our "Painted Ladies".
Numbers
Between 13 and 23 species (depending on author interpretation of species limits), with 4 species in North America. One additional - Vanessa tameamea (Eschscholtz) - is endemic to Hawaii. In recent years, based on morphological and particularly molecular evidence, some African species have been moved to Vanessa from Antanartia.
Vanessa amerindica J.Y. Miller & F.M. Brown 1989 is a fossil butterfly named from the Florrisant Fossil Beds in Colorado.
Size
Mostly between about 1 and 2 inches in wingspread.
Identification
For differences between the American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis and the Painted Lady (Cosmopolitan), Vanessa cardui, see this composite of dorsal views:

Compare ventral views:
Range
Vanessa is represented on all continents except Antarctica.
Habitat
Mostly found in temperate latitudes or high elevations in the tropics. Typically in open sunny areas near food plants.
Food
Mostly Urticaceae, Malvaceae, and Asteraceae
Life Cycle
Spiny caterpillars, but with no prominent spines on head; spines on body bear branches. Color varies considerably from species to species, and often within one species. Spines not capable of stinging. There is a row of spines down the middle of the back (as in all subfamily Nymphalidae species). Pupae are usually brownish but may be green, gray, etc.; are angular but without long projections (they have short points) and often with a metallic gold or silvery sheen.
Remarks
Very lively sun-loving butterflies that are fond of nectar as well as often being seen gathering at mud. Males can be very pugnacious, setting up territories and defending them vigorously. Our mainland species all show migratory tendencies to some degree, particularly V. cardui and V. annabella.
Print References
Internet References
The Vanessa Migration Project. Help contribute to scientific knowledge about these butterflies.