Beautiful Painted Ladies


Kathleen Pearce

This lesson was created as a part of the SMART website and is hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology


                 The objective of this lesson is to explore the life cycles of the painted lady butterfly. 


The Painted Lady is one of the most common and widespread butterfly in the world.  They are found all over North America.  In our area they can be seen between March and October.

The Painted Lady Butterfly has four wings, two hind wings and two forewings, that are symmetrical in pattern and shape. The upper surface of the wing is mostly black, brown, and orange. They also have some white spots with red and blue markings. The underside of the wings are gray, with white and red markings. They have three pairs of legs. These butterflies often tuck the front pair of  legs under their body, making it look as if they only have four legs.  If you look closely, though, you can find all six.  The male Painted Ladies have a smaller abdomen than a females.

Butterflies are insects.  Like all insects they have three body parts ( head, thorax and abdomen) and six legs.  Butterflies have a long tongue that they normally keep coiled up under their heads.  The tongue is really a hollow tube, like a straw.  When a butterfly needs to reach into the flower to drink some nectar, the tongue uncoils so the butterfly can drink the nectur. 

Butterflies look like moths but they are different.  Butterflies usually fly during the day, while moths fly at night .  Butterflies usually rest their wings up; moths rest with their wings stretched out flat.

There are more than 15,000 different species of butterflies in the world.  They can be found almost anywhere, from the coldest mountains to the hottest deserts.


Four Stages of a Painted Lady Butterfly:

1 The Egg (3 to 5 days) Adult female butterflies lay their eggs on plants that Painted Lady caterpillars like to eat, like thistle. The eggs are the size of a pin head, each one containing a caterpillar beginning to grow.
The Eggs
1 The Larva or caterpillar comes out! (5 to 10 days) The hungry caterpillar uses its strong jaws to munch through leaves, eating constantly and growing quickly. As it eats, the caterpillar's skin gets tighter. Soon it sheds this tight skin, emerging with new skin underneath. Each caterpillar changes skin four times before it's fully grown. After three weeks, this hairy, black and yellow caterpillar stops growing - it's almost 2 inches long! The Larva
1 The chrysalis - metamorphosis begins. (7 to 10 days) The caterpillar finds a safe place to rest. With a silk thread that comes out of a hole just below its mouth (spinneret), the caterpillar spins a silk pad to attach to. The caterpillar hangs from this pad. Soon, the caterpillars' skin splits open, from head to abdomen, revealing a shiny green case underneath - the chrysalis.

What is happening in the chrysalis?
Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar is becoming completely liquid and reforming itself into a butterfly. The butterfly pushes from inside and slowly struggles out, until the case splits open. (See poster.)
The Chrysalis

1 The butterfly emerges! (2 weeks) When the butterfly first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and crumpled. The tired butterfly rests, and then slowly unfolds its wings to dry.

After a few hours, the butterfly will be ready to fly. The Painted Lady Butterfly has a 2-week life span. During that time, its main goal is to reproduce and lay eggs so the cycle can begin again!

The Butterfly




                                       Parts of the Butterfly                                                                                  Chrysalis




Some web sites to find out more about Painted Ladies




The Butterfly Nursery 
Insect Lore Products 
P.O. Box 1535
Shafter, Ca. 93263

You will need to purchase a painted lady butterfly kit.  The kit will contain a nursery that will need to be assembled.  You will also need to send away for caterpillars.  The children will be able to view these eggs for a few days.  The eggs will then become caterpillars which will turn into butterflies.



Vocabulary terms

Abdomen - the hind part of the body on the caterpillar and the butterfly. All insects have one!

Antennae - found on the butterfly's head, used to taste the air, and help with balance and orientation.

Caterpillar - the larval stage of a butterfly or moth.

Chrysalis - the hard shell covering the pupa, shaped like an upside-down teardrop.

Compound eyes - found on the butterfly's head. Thousands of tiny lenses help the butterfly see in all directions, and recognize color and pattern and movement.

Habitat - environment that supports the survival of a species.

Larva - the second stage of metamorphosis - another term for caterpillar.

Migrate - to travel from one place to another, often seasonally.

Molt - the caterpillars "molt," or shed their skin, as they grow.

Proboscis - the butterfly tongue, which works like a drinking straw. In metamorphosis, the proboscis is formed as two separate parts, which the butterfly uncoils and zips together to form a tube for drinking.

Pupa - the third stage of metamorphosis - another name for the chrysalis.

Thorax - the three front segments of the caterpillar, each segment with a pair of legs. The front part of the butterfly's body.



Painted ladies web site

Butterfly web site

Three stages 


Back to the SMART home page