All You Need to Know About the Painted Lady Caterpillar

Painted lady caterpillars have bristles and can be most commonly found on thistle plants. You can grow your own in plastic cups and transfer them into a butterfly mesh net when they are ready to transform.

Painted Lady Caterpillar Description

Painted lady caterpillars are spiny. Their spines give them their common name, thistle caterpillars. They are grayish brown or purple-black with yellow side stripes. Painted lady caterpillars can be difficult to identify since their appearance changes with each instar (growth stage).

These caterpillars go through 5 instars. Early instars have light gray bodies and large, dark heads and appear worm-like. The larvae then develop noticeable spines. Their body becomes dark with white and orange markings. The final instar retains the spikes and is lighter in color.

How Long Does It Take for a Painted Lady Caterpillar to Turn Into a Butterfly?

Painted Lady
Painted Lady

Painted lady caterpillars spend 8 to 14 days in the caterpillar stage. They eat and grow until they are large enough to enter the chrysalis stage. Once the caterpillar is ready to pupate, it will create its pupa and will remain there for 7 to 10 days. The chrysalis will become clear once the butterfly is about to emerge, and its wings will be visible.

What Does a Painted Lady Caterpillar Eat?

Painted lady caterpillars feed on over 100 plant species. Adult butterflies lay their eggs on host plants, and the plant they lay their eggs on will become food for the hatched caterpillars.

Free Butterfly Garden Mastery Course

Sign up for our five-email course that will teach you how to identify, observe and attract butterflies to your garden.

Painted lady host plants include various types of mallow flowers and daisies. Large populations of Painted lady caterpillars eat soybean crops. Painted lady caterpillars enjoy weedy plants. Below is a list of some food plants for these caterpillars:

  • Aster
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Hollyhock
  • Ironweed
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Red Clover
  • Thistle plant
  • Zinnias

Making the Painted Lady Caterpillar Food

You can make food for your Painted lady caterpillar with dirt, sugar water, and a host plant. The best host plants for Painted lady caterpillars are thistles or mallows. Follow these steps below to make your own caterpillar food and habitat:

  1. Create sugar water by mixing one tablespoon of sugar with five tablespoons of water.
  2. Put two cups of dirt in a plastic cup.
  3. Pour in the sugar water to mix it with the dirt.
  4. After mixing it well, place a piece of a host plant in the plastic cup.
  5. Use a Q-Tip to gently move the caterpillar to the host plant.

People who grow their own caterpillars often use a commercial paste to feed the caterpillars. It contains nutrients that help the caterpillars grow into healthy butterflies.

Where Are Painted Lady Caterpillars Found?

Painted lady Caterpillars can be found in tent-like structures that they weave out of silk. The fluffy shelters can often be found on thistles. Painted Lady butterflies and caterpillars live on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. They are the most widely distributed butterfly in the world.

Painted Lady Caterpillar Nest

Painted lady caterpillars create silk nests. The nests are similar to the structure of a tent. Only one caterpillar lives in the nest at a time, and it spends most of its larval stage there. Their nests are most commonly found on thistle plants. Painted lady caterpillars create these nests for protection from predators and weather.

How to Care For Painted Lady Caterpillar?

When raising Painted lady caterpillars, you need small cups with food to grow the larva. Punch several small holes in the lid of a condiment cup. Place a piece of a host plant in the cup for the larva to eat. Before putting the lid on, place a small piece of paper towel over the top of the cup.

It is important not to place the cups in direct sunlight. If the cups become overheated, the larva can die. The larva should remain at a temperature of about 68-78 degrees F.

Once the caterpillars form a chrysalis, you can move them to a mesh butterfly house. You can suspend the chrysalises upside down or lay them on the bottom of the house. Once the Painted lady butterfly emerges, you can feed them with a sugar water solution. You can also feed them with cut-up watery fruit.

Can You Touch a Painted Lady Caterpillar?

It is safe to touch Painted lady caterpillars. However, you should let caterpillars crawl onto you rather than picking them up to minimize the chance of harming the caterpillar.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Leave a Comment