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Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

On this page, we have made available all the information we have for this species

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Picture of Painted Lady
© Nick Greatorex-Davies

The Painted Lady arrives in the UK in the spring as a migrant from North Africa every year, with numbers arriving fluctuating considerably from one year to the next. Vast numbers arrive in some years (e.g. 1996, 2009). Offspring from the early migrants can be seen until the first frosts in the autumn. Thistles (e.g. Circium spp.) are the most frequently used foodplant in the UK. Unlike our other Vanessids the adults do not normally survive our British winter. (For further details on this species see

Family : Nymphalidae

Status : Stable

Status details :
Status since 1976 is Stable with a increase of 56%
Status over the last 20 years is Stable with a decrease of -69.3%
Status over the last 10 years is Stable with a decrease of -33.4%

Log collated index plot

Species Log Collated Index Plot

This chart shows the index of abundance (LCI = Log Collated Index) over time. It shows fluctuations in populations from year to year, and is scaled so that the average index over the whole series is equal to 2 (horizontal line). For greater detail about how this index is derived, click on the green question mark above.

Trend description :
This migrant species experiences almost annual fluctuations between years of relative abundance and years of relative scarcity largely governed by breeding success in southern Europe and North Africa. Notable years such as 1996 and 2009 have been linked to wet winters in the breeding grounds in North Africa, with researchers conducting studies at sites in Morocco. Recent research has shown that the migration of Painted Lady involves a series of generational movements northwards from these areas followed later in the season by a return migration. Years where migration is high and the Painted Lady produces large site indices are followed by extremely poor years in which very few are recorded, likely due to a combination of host-plant depletion and parasitoids. Although the data show a positive trend since 1976 this is not significant because of the large and regular fluctutations.

This map shows the distribution between 1995 and 2016. Data is derived from the Butterflies for the New Millenium dataset via the NBN Gateway

Phenology plot
Species Phenology Plot

Phenology plot

This chart shows the average number of butterflies seen on transects between Arpil and October across all sites (fitted values from a Generalised Additive Model). The blue line gives average counts over the full BMS series (1976 to date) and the red line gives the average for the last year.

Species abundance map


This map shows symbols for the mean abundance at transect sites, with the colour of the symbol reflecting the level of abundance. Means are over all years. Grey background squares are the occupied cells as shown by the Butterflies for the New Millenium over the previous ten year period.


In total, Painted Lady has been recorded from 821 transects in the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. Of these, annual indices of abundance have been calculated from 986 sites, with an average index of 8 individuals per site.

For 466 of these sites, Painted Lady has been recorded well enough to calculate annual indices of abundance in more years, allowing trends to be calculated.

In 2019, 10097 individuals were recorded from 585 sites, producing annual indices at 451 of these.

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme is organized and funded by Butterfly Conservation (BC), the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The UKBMS is indebted to all volunteers who contribute data to the scheme.