Raising Painted Lady Butterflies

Painted Lady Butterflies

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady Butterflies are one of the most widely distributed butterflies in the world, they can be found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Migration and the wide range of available host plants is what helps make the painted ladies so widely distributed.  The larvae (caterpillars) of Painted Ladies feed on more than 100 types of host plants, particularly Thistles (Asteraceae), Mallows (Malvaceae) which include Hollyhock (Alcea) and Cheeseweed (parviflora).

Girl Holding Painted Lady Butterfly

Mackenzie’s Butterfly

Painted Ladies are one of the easiest butterflies to raise because not only will the young larvae feed on so many different host plants, they will also feed on a specially formulated artificial diet.  This artificial diet makes it possible for the larvae to be sold in butterfly rearing kits and are often raised and studied in classrooms by elementary students.  The popularity of “Butterfly Larvae Rearing Kits” has also contributed to the distribution of these beautiful and abundant butterflies.

It’s fun and easy to raise Painted Lady Butterflies and rearing butterflies is truly an educational experience that every child will certainly enjoy and remember for years to come.  The easiest way to raise Painted Lady Butterflies is by purchasing a Butterfly Rearing Kit.

Butterfly Rearing Kit

Butterfly Rearing Kit

One of the most popular kits is made by Insect Lore, the kits include a reusable pop-up butterfly habitat, artificial diet and easy to follow instructions. The kits don’t actually contain any butterfly larvae, you will need to mail or FAX the enclosed coupon to Insect Lore, once you receive the larva in the mail, the fun begins!

The larvae will feed on the artificial diet for about 10 to 14 days and when they are ready, they will begin to crawl to the top of the food container. Once they have securely attached themselves to the top of the container, they will begin their miraculous metamorphic change, shedding their skin one last time to expose the their final layer, which is known as the chrysalis.  At which time you can transfer the lid with the attached chrysalises to the butterfly habitat.

Painted Lady Butterfly Eggs

Tiny Blue Eggs of the Painted Lady Butterfly

In about 10 to 14 days, your beautiful painted lady butterflies will emerge from their chrysalises.  You will get to enjoy watching the butterflies in the butterfly habitat.  To extend the fun and life of your newly emerged butterflies, you can feed the butterflies by providing fresh flowers for nectar and variety of fruits, like slices of banana, peach, cherries, watermelon and oranges.

After a few days in captivity, you may consider adding one of the butterfly host plants I mentioned above and you will certainly be rewarded with an ample supply of tiny blue butterfly eggs!  Make sure you will have an ample supply of pesticide free host plants to feed the hatchlings, if not or you can order some ready-made artificial diet from our butterfly gift shop.

Painted Lady Butterfly Larvae

Win A Painted Lady Butterfly Larvae Kit

If you’ve already had the pleasure of raising painted lady butterflies and already have a butterfly habitat, you will be able to simply order a butterfly refill larvae kit for your butterfly enclosure.

At anytime you may want to release your adult painted lady Butterflies into your backyard, local park or butterfly garden.

To learn more about butterfly gardening for the benefit of butterflies, visit our Butterfly Gardening web page!

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23 Responses to Raising Painted Lady Butterflies
  1. Dylan
    June 5, 2016 | 1:14 pm

    What are butterfly’s that are ok to breed in captivity. I am looking to breed when they grow up, but am not sure which ones are best to breed? I will be breeding indoors and I live in Florida if that helps.

    • OWB
      June 14, 2016 | 10:41 am

      Almost any butterfly can be bred in captivity. Painted ladies are the easiest of all! For other breeds, you can search the web for information on breeding.
      Best of luck!

  2. Teddi Zorola
    April 22, 2016 | 10:34 am


    My daughter received (and adored) her insect lore kit and we released the painted lady adults today! Low and behold, we have dozens of teal eggs on the sides of the enclosure, on cut upnoranges, and even on the nectar sponge the kit cane with. What do you suggest we do to encourage proper egg maturity of possible? We live in southern california. Thank you!!

  3. merve saglar
    March 2, 2016 | 12:22 am

    I would like to get some information on how to raise painted Lady butterflies. I’m a complete beginner so I have a lot of questions.

    How do I get them to mate?
    What do I do with the eggs? (how do I steralize them?)
    How can I prevent disease? (this is the most important part that I’m concerned about since I’ll be breeding them indoors.)


    • OWB
      March 3, 2016 | 3:19 pm

      Hi Merve, how exciting! Painted ladies will eagerly mate on their own after about 5 days after they emerge as adult butterflies. It is not necessary to sterilize painted lady eggs. To prevent disease, keep everything clean and moisture free (moisture is deadly for painted lady caterpillars) and don’t overcrowd the caterpillars. You will learn as you go, painted lady butterflies are among the easiest butterflies to rear in captivity. It takes patience and a tiny soft paintbrush (for moving the larvae onto the food). You will see!
      Enjoy the butterflies,

  4. Cupcake lore
    November 24, 2015 | 2:31 pm

    How can you engrouge your butterflies to mate?

    • OWB
      November 24, 2015 | 4:22 pm

      Painted lady butterflies are among the easiest butterflies mate in captivity! Give them plenty of natural light, food and some plants to lay eggs on. Preferable their natural host plants, like hollyhock, cheeseweed, rib-grass and many other plants in the mallow family. You can mist them with a water to encourage them to get moving also. If still no luck try adding one drop of soy sauce into some Gatorade or sugar water to make sure the males have plenty of salts and mineral for breeding. Best of luck!

  5. susan
    July 28, 2014 | 1:43 am

    Hi there

    Are there specific breeding periods or can you raises butterfly anytime in the year? Thank you

    • OWB
      September 26, 2014 | 11:12 am

      Depends on where you live, but here in California, we raise and release butterflies all year long. Where do you live?

      • Amber
        August 26, 2015 | 8:31 am

        Hi, I live in Mississippi. I was wondering when the best time of year is to raise Painted Ladies. I am having to raise some for a Zoology project. It said I can only receive them anywhere between March and September. Would September be a good time or should I wait until March.
        P.S. It is okay if I do have to wait until March.

        • OWB
          November 25, 2015 | 12:29 pm

          Since you can raise them indoors, any time of year is ok. I would avoid the winter months if you are planning on releasing them back into the wild.

      • hairkare
        January 7, 2016 | 2:14 pm

        Since you are in California, can you help me with the release. It is rather cold, hasn’t been over 50 here, should we still release them? My son would like to keep them to lay eggs but I don’t know what to feed the caterpillars.

        • OWB
          January 7, 2016 | 2:37 pm

          What type of butterflies are they, Painted ladies? Yes, it’s been too cold for them to fly. I released some monarchs a few days ago and they stayed on the milkweed for two days, so I brought them back indoors. I’ll take care of them indoors until the weather is above 60 degrees and the sun is out. If you are raising Painted Lady Butterflies, keep them indoors, feed them orange, banana, melon or other fruits. If they lay eggs, you could move the eggs to the artificial diet. Hopefully yours won’t lay eggs! Good luck!

  6. Julie Crowther
    May 29, 2013 | 8:56 pm

    Hi there. Just started our adventure with painted ladies. Two questions: How can you tell males and females apart and how can you get them to winter or lay eggs. We live in Kelowna British Columbia Canada

    • OWB
      May 30, 2013 | 10:25 am

      Hi Julie, What a fun adventure you are in for! It’s difficult to tell the male painted ladies from the females. The only way that I know of is by checking the size of their abdomens, the females have a slightly rounder fuller abdomens, which becomes even more apparent once the females are carrying eggs. The females are sexually ready when they emerge but it will take the male butterflies 3 to 5 days before they are ready to mate. To help encourage mating, keep them well fed with fresh fruit, nectar flowers and/or use a cotton ball soaked in Gatorade and keep the habitat in a sunny spot or by a window which will keep them them active. They will eventually lay eggs on most anything in the cage including the habitat itself, but it’s best to supply them with some host plant clippings kept fresh in a vase of water or on a damp paper towel. Once they start laying eggs, you will need to know what to do next, as they lay many many eggs and it can get quite overwhelming if you do not know what to do with the eggs. Here are some resources for more information on raising Painted Lady Butterflies: http://www.obsessionwithbutterflies.com/blog/2010/07/painted-ladies/

      Enjoy the butterflies!

  7. peejay
    May 12, 2013 | 11:29 am

    Great website — lots of information.
    I really love all the Vanessid butterflies.
    In England we see Red Admirals and Painted Ladies (some usually lay eggs in my nettle and thistle patch).
    I really love the New Zealand Admiral — I’m going to rear some from Worldwide Butterflies.

    I read that there are 10 different species of Admiral butterflies, and 11 species of ‘Lady’ butterflies!
    Is there a website where I can see images of them all?

    Best wishes,

    • OWB
      May 12, 2013 | 5:06 pm

      Hi Pete, Wow, wonderful! I’m not sure what site has all the different species of admirals, but we use this website for our local California species identification and information on host plants and such.

  8. Di
    March 9, 2012 | 6:53 pm

    Does anyone know where I can get butterfly larvae in Australia. I bought the insect lore kit not realising it was in US only and now cant find any larvae.

  9. Jan Heywood
    August 19, 2011 | 8:19 pm

    Great website! Painted Ladies do occur in Australia. They are found in the Perth area from September to january. Migrants come from Africa in some years and may breed and become established temporarily.

    In Victoria we have the Australian Painted Lady, Vanessa kershawi which are not disimilar. Two APL are the first butterflies I have seen this spring

  10. Michelle
    April 18, 2011 | 12:14 am

    I agree with you about the insect lore butterfly gardens. They are a wonderful butterfly garden. They are packaged geared towards children, yet they are perfectly suitable for adults. The metamorphic journey of a butterfly in the same, it doesn’t matter what the box it is packaged in looks like.

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