Adult: Like the American lady (V. virginiensis), this is an orange and black butterfly with white spots on the dark forewing tips and white cobwebbing on the brown undersides of the hindwings. Painted ladies have 4 small eyespots on the underside of the hindwing. Seen from above, the wide dark median forewing band, which is broken into two parts, has a heavy connecting bar. The spots on the hindwing are well separated and all about the same size.
Larvae are greenish yellow to lavender, with yellowish spines and a yellow stripe on the sides.
Similar species: The American lady (V. virginiensis) is very similar; the easiest way to tell them apart is the eyespots on the underside of the hindwing: the painted lady has 4 small ones, the American lady has 2 large ones.