San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Vanessa anabella
West Coast Lady

Family: NYMPHALIDAE (Brushfooted Butterflies)


The West Coast Lady ranges from 1 3/4 - 2 1/8 inches, and has an overall mottled orange color. The tip of the forewing is square-edged, which is a diagnostic characteristic. The hindwing has eyespots that are blue in the middle. Caterpillars vary in color from tannish to black.

Range and Habitat

West Coast Lady butterflies are found in open valleys, meadows, roadsides and coastal areas. They are considered a resident species in lowland California, Arizona and New Mexico, but may be seen occasionally throughout much of the western states north to Canada.

Natural History

Females lay their eggs singly on plants in the mallow family (Malvaceae), which later serve the caterpillars as food. Young caterpillars make a hibernaculum for themselves by creating a tent-like structure out of leaves and silk. The West Coast Lady overwinters as an adult. This is the most common of the Vanessas found in urban and suburban San Diego.

Related or Similar Species

Painted Lady, Red Admiral, and Monarch

West Coast Lady, photo by Bob Parks

Nymphalidae: Brushfooted Butterflies
A highly variable family with the largest number of species of all the families. The pair of front legs is reduced in size and not used for walking, hence the name brushfoot. Nymphalids are medium to large butterflies. Frequently eggs are laid in clusters and many larvae are gregarious, like to hang out together as a group. Members of this family are also known for nectaring on sap, rotten fruit, dung, and even animal carcasses. Diapause occurs either in the larval or adult stage.

Text by Margi Dykens and Christian Manion.
Photos by Bob Parks.

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