In previous posts, I introduced American Ladies (Vanessa virginiensis) and West Coast Ladies (Vanessa annabella). This is the third lady in our area — the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui). This individual was nectaring on Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) at the north end of Bodega Harbor on 13 October 2012. Above, look for the long, black proboscis reaching into the thistle flowers.
In the photo below, note the white bar at the leading edge of the forewing (it's usually orange in West Coast Ladies). On the hindwing, there are four dark spots of the same size without blue centers (they usually have blue centers in West Coast Ladies).
In the next photo, on the lower surface of the hindwing there are four distinct eyespots (and one tiny one). American Ladies have two eyespots instead of four. West Coast Ladies also have four eyespots, but they are less distinct.
Painted Ladies have a broad distribution and are known for their long-distance movements — northward in spring and southward in fall. They may be observed during any month of the year.
At first glance, people often mistake ladies for Monarch butterflies. Although both are dominated by orange and black, Monarchs are much larger and have a much simpler pattern of stripes and spots — to compare, review the Monarch photos from 20 February 2012.