By Larry de March
Painted lady 4842
American lady 34
Red Admiral 660
White admiral 3791
The final group of “leftover” Nymphalidae includes some of the most easily identifiable butterflies in Manitoba and two easily confused pairs. They are of medium to large-size.
Painted lady has a global distribution. Its high-altitude fall migration from northern Europe to Africa is the longest migration of any butterfly species. Painted lady cannot overwinter in Manitoba. Migrants arrive from May on and there are two generations per year. Concentrations during the autumn migration can be large and the remarkable numbers in many parts of North America including southern Manitoba in September, 2017 were enjoyed by anyone who saw them. 2019 also had large numbers, though not as many as in 2017. Painted lady caterpillars feed on a wide variety of plants including sunflowers and thistles. Adults can be found almost anywhere in open areas and they nectar on many species of wild and domestic flowers.
The uncommon American lady differs from the similarly patterned Painted lady by having two large eye spots on the underside of the hind wings and a tiny but obvious white spot in the middle of an orange cell on the dorsal fore-wing. They likely cannot overwinter in Manitoba and migrants can be seen from early May on with two generations produced in summer. Caterpillars feed on a number of plants in the Asteraceae including pussytoes, pearly everlasting and burdock. The adults, which can be found in many open habitats, are fast flyers which often cooperate with the viewer by nectaring with their wings spread for easy identification.
In the same genus as the two ladies, Red admiral is an easily identifiable species whose dark brown wings sport reddish-orange stripes which fade to orange with age. It cannot overwinter in Manitoba. Migrants, which can arrive as early as mid-April when no other food is available, can sometimes be found sharing bleeding trees with Mourning cloaks or other overwintering species. The two generations of caterpillars feed primarily on thistles. Adults can be found almost anywhere, feeding on tree sap, bird droppings, rotting fruit and sometimes on flowers of Asteraceae and in spring, often on lilac.
With large eye-spots on the dorsal wing surfaces, the spectacular and unmistakable Common buckeye is an occasional vagrant which can show up in almost any open-area location from early June to early October. Sightings have been made in scattered locations across the study area including Buffalo Point, Winnipeg, Oak Hammock Marsh, Hecla Island and near Pinawa. It has bred in Manitoba at least once.
The white stripe on all four wings of the White admiral make this species easily identifiable, even at a distance. In other parts of North America there are other colour forms including the Red-spotted purple on which the white stripes are completely lacking. White admiral numbers are variable and sometimes they can be abundant with groups found puddling on moist soil patches or on animal droppings along forestry roads. This inhabitant of deciduous forests has one primary generation per year with the first adults usually appearing in early June. There is usually a smaller second generation later in the summer. The caterpillars, which as they get bigger do a terrific impersonation of bird droppings, feed on poplars and birch.
The Viceroy is well known in biological circles as a Batesian mimic of the Monarch butterfly. A Batesian mimic has a similar colour and pattern as a species which is either toxic or unpalatable to predators. The smaller Viceroy can be told from the Monarch most easily by the thin dark line cutting across the hind wings. Just to confuse observers, this line is sometimes missing and other differences in the wing pattern have to be used for identification. Viceroys are typically found near water or other moist area where two generations of caterpillars, camouflaged as bird droppings, feed on leaves of willows and poplar.
The Monarch is arguably the most iconic butterfly in North America, familiar to most people whether or not they take a specific interest in butterflies. Its long migrations and overwintering in the millions in the mountain forests of Mexico are well known. It occurs not only in North America but also in Central and South America, Hawaii, Australia and a few other places. Monarchs migrate into Manitoba mostly in June and lay their eggs on at least four species of milkweed on which the caterpillars feed. The milkweed sap contains cardenolides which are retained by both the caterpillar and adult Monarch, making them bad-tasting and toxic to predators. The second generation, which matures in late summer is the one which migrates south. These can be found almost anywhere where milkweeds grow, though their numbers vary considerably from year to year.