Story and Photos
by Jim Moore
I do not often dream about bugs, but when I do it usually involves seeing an amazingly beautiful, never-before-
seen butterfly, which of course I cannot ever catch. But recently I had an odd butterfly dream. In the dream I was the butterfly, and I was sunning myself on some lavender flowers in a park; and people kept pointing at me, and saying to each another,
“Look, a Painted Lady Butterfly!” But I wanted so very much to tell them, “No, no, I am a Painted Gentleman Butterfly!” But I could not, and it was very frustrating. About then, our cat stepped on my head, and I woke up and realized it was just a dream; but it provided me with a nice subject for this article.
The Painted Lady Butterfly, species Vanessa cardui, is a truly amazing butterfly. It is probably the most widespread of all butterfly species, being found in temperate regions on every continent except South America and Antarctica. The caterpillars feed on a great variety of plants; and occasionally, the population of these butterflies just explodes! Then, like the lemmings of Scandinavia, the Painted Lady Butterflies, and the gents too, start mass migrating, usually northward. Scientists once estimated that one such migration in southern California contained about three billion butterflies! I suppose that these fantastic population explosions are aided by the fact that no bird in their right bird-brain will eat the incredibly thorny caterpillars.
Another interesting thing about the Painted Lady Butterfly is that the species cannot survive freezing weather and they do not like hot tropical weather, thus their absence in those habitats.
The species name ‘cardui’ is the latin word for thistle; and refers to one of the favorite foods of the caterpillars. I found the photographed caterpillar within a silken nest on a bull thistle plant. The genus name ‘Vanessa’ was a name invented in 1708 for a lady character in a poem and later applied to the butterfly genus. If I ever do catch one of those butterflies in my dreams, I think I will name it the ‘Dreamland Gentleman Butterfly’!