Today’s trivial questions are: (1) Why were Painted Lady Butterflies given that awful name? and (2) What’s the best way to distinguish American Painted Ladies from other Painted Ladies around here?
First, the scientists who name butterflies apparently considered these butterflies to be gaudy – “painted ladies” has long been a slang reference to prostitutes, many of whom historically wore garish makeup. The name is doubly demeaning for the poor male Painted Ladies.
Second, we not only have Painted Ladies with no given nationality working our neighborhood, we also have Painted Ladies known as Americans. The biggest difference? The eyes of the American Painted Ladies are gaudier. The Americans have two large eyespots on the underside (“ventral” side) of their hind wings, whereas the Ladies without a country have a series of smaller spots. That’s a Painted Lady above, and this is an American Painted Lady:
The topsides (“dorsal” sides) of both species are a sedate orange-brown with less intricate markings. It’s often hard to distinguish the two species by looking at their topsides. That’s a Painted Lady on the left and an American Painted Lady on the right: