Vanessa kershawi (McCoy, 1868)
William Kershaw's Painted Lady
(erroneously: Cynthia kershawii)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Vanessa kershawi
(Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

This species was named in honour of William Kershaw, a taxidermist at the National Museum (now Museum Victoria).

The Caterpillar is brown with two pale yellow lines along each side and is covered in rows of branched spines.

Vanessa kershawi
(Photo: courtesy of Laura Levens, Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria)

The head may be brown or black. The caterpillar grows to a length of about 3 centimetres.

Vanessa kershawi
(Photo: courtesy of Laura Levens, Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria)

The caterpillar hides by day in a curled leaf or at the foot of the foodplant, feeding at night. It feeds on a number of herbaceus plants from the Daisy family (ASTERACEAE) including the Australian natives :

  • Winged Everlasting ( Ammobium alatum ),
  • Strawflower ( Bracteantha bracteata ),
  • Yellow Buttons ( Chrysocephalum apiculatum ),
  • Rice Flower ( Chrysocephalum semipapposum ),
  • Everlastings ( Helichrysum species), and
  • Western Sunray ( Rhodanthe chlorocephalum ),

    and the introduced :

  • Capeweed ( Arctotheca calendula ),
  • Scotch Thistle ( Onopordum acanthium ), and

    and has also been found on

  • Lavender ( Lavendula angustifolia, LAMIACEAE ).

    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Laura Levens,
    Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria)
    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Reg Watson,
    Portarlington, Victoria)

    The pupae vary from brown to gold, with darker metallic silver or gold markings, including pairs of metallic-looking dots on the wings. The pupa is often suspended vertically from a cremaster on the underside of foodplant leaf. Its length is about 1 cm. The pupal duration is about two weeks in summer in Melbourne.

    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Ted Cadwallader)

    The adult butterflies have a wing span around 5 cms. The adult males and females are similar in appearance. The forewing above is black with orange-red markings, and has four white dots near the apex, and a white bar running inward from the costa. The hindwing above is orange with three or four blue-centred eyespots arranged along a subterminal line.

    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Ian McMillan, Imbil, Queensland)

    Beneath, the forewing is the same as above, except that it is paler in colour. The underside of each hindwing is brown and cream, with a row of faint subterminal eyespots. The wingspan is about 5 cms.

    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Bruce Anstee, Riverstone, New South Wales)

    Note that the adults have only four legs, and have a long haustellum with which they can suck nectar from flowers.

    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Ken Walker, Melbourne, Victoria)

    The female lays her eggs singly on a leaf of a food plant. She settles on a leaf, positions herself carefully, then deposits the egg in the centre of the leaf. It is easy to find the eggs once this behaviour is understood. The eggs are barrel shaped with prominent ribs, and have a diameter of about 0.5 mm. The main egg is green, and the ribs white. The eggs we have taken have hatched in about three days.

    Vanessa kershawi
    (Photo: courtesy of Fred Swindley, Sydney, New South Wales)

    The whole life cycle is fifty three days in summer in Melbourne. The butterfly is notable for its migrations during late winter and early spring from northern regions on the east coast of Australia towards the south-west, particularly in the Sydney area.

    Vanessa kershawi
    mating pair
    (Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

    The species occurs across the west Indian Ocean to the east Pacific Ocean, including:

  • Indonesia,
  • New Zealand,

    and including Australia, in

  • Western Australia,
  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Australian Capital Territory,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania, and
  • South Australia.

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 2, pp. 579-580.

    Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke,
    Create More Butterflies : a guide to 48 butterflies and their host-plants
    Earthling Enterprises, Brisbane, 2005, pp. 5, 58, 71.

    Frederick McCoy,
    The Australian Representative of Cynthia cardui,
    Annals and Magazine of Natural History,
    Volume 4, Part 1 (1868), p. 76.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 9 May 2010, 13 December 2013, 17 March 2015, 27 October 2020, 14 December 2021)