Wednesday, 25 August 2010

the painted lady (Vanessa cardui)

I spent the weekend in the Tengger Caldera area in East Java solely for the purpose of climbing up Mt. Bromo. The 16-km-wide Tengger caldera is located at the northern end of a volcanic massif extending from Mt Semeru. The massive Tengger volcanic complex dates back to about 820,000 years ago and consists of five overlapping stratovolcanoes, each truncated by a caldera. The place I stayed in, Java Banana, is located on the slopes of the caldera at Wonotoro, Sukapura in Probolinggo. It is roughly 2000 meters above sea-level, with a breezy mountainuous tropical climate with temperatures around 14–18°C during daylight and 6–10°C at night.

The area is covered with flowering plants and shrubs, but Brugmansia was probably the most common. One of the more commonly seen butterflies in the area was the Painted Lady or Vanessa cardui, hovering amongst the cosmos flower beds.

The Painted Lady belongs to the genus Vanessea and is part of the Nymphalidae family of butterflies. They are well-known throughout the world and are generally large butterflies. They are usually identified by the black and white corners of its mainly deep orange, black-spotted wings. They consist of a few species but the one in question was the Vanessa cardui and not the Vanessa virginiensis or the American Painted Lady. Although the two look very similar, the main distinguishing factor is the fact that the latter has only 2 two large hindwing eyespots on the ventral side while the former has 4 smaller sub-marginal eyespots on the dorsal and ventral sides.

In terms of its distribution, these butterflies are pretty widespread and are found throughout the world except South America and the Antarctica. They occur in any temperate zone, including mountains in the tropics and this explains its prevalence in the Tengger Caldera. The host plants are generally those of the Asteraceae family including Carduus crispus, Boraginaceae, Malvaceae and Fabaceae. The butterflies tend to drink nectar from a variety of wildflowers and cultivars including zinnias and cosmos.

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