Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Painted Lady

The painted lady is a common butterfly. It is found on all continents except South America and Antarctica. It is a notable migrant and in some years tens or hundreds of thousands appear suddenly in the Maltese countryside only to disappear some days later.

In the USA this species is known as Cosmopolitan. In Maltese it is known as farfett tax-xewk.
When resting on the ground with its wings closed the painted lady can be very well camouflaged and difficult to see but it often spends time sunbathing with its dark orange wings open in full view of any predator that happen to be in the vicinity as well as to potential mates.

Adult lives from two to four weeks but during their brief life some manage to travel from North Africa to northern Europe. Spring migration takes place every year but we do not see it annually because the exact route taken is determined by weather and wind direction.

Until recently it was believed that the movement is in one direction only but research is indicating that in autumn there is another migration to the south. The southern movement takes place at very high altitude and is being studied by means of entomological radars. Research has shown that these butterflies use the sun to orientate themselves so as to be able to keep a straight-line path.

The caterpillars can be found feeding on mallow plants (ħobbejż), wild artichoke (qaqoċċ tax-xewk) and borage (fidloqqom).

The painted lady is related to the red admiral (farfett tal-ħurrieq), another common butterfly. It also has other close relatives namely the Australian painted lady, the American painted lady which is usually found in mountainous areas of North America and the west coast lady which can be found throughout much of the western US and south western Canada.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 2 Ictober 2014.  

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