Photos: Swarm of painted lady butterflies fill the sky in California during migration

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
March 22, 2019, 3:32:13 PM EDT


Painted lady butterfly resting on a flower.


Butterfly on a flower during migration.


Close up shot of a beautiful butterfly.


Painted lady butterfly on yellow flower.


Painted lady butterflies in flight for their migration.

Some would be terrified of a swarm of millions of insects, except this one happens to be beautiful butterflies called painted ladies.

They are taking over the skies in Southern California as they make their way north for migration.

The butterflies reside in warmer areas but migrate in spring and sometimes again in autumn.

"The painted lady migration is not rare but rather has been taking place for centuries. In some years, the numbers aren’t as pronounced as they are this year," President of Butterfly Rescue International, Lepidopterist Rick Mikula said.

These painted ladies are known to travel annually from the deserts of Southern California to the Pacific Northwest.

In California, they are usually seen flying from north to northwest.

"This year’s huge increase can be attributed to the California rains which help to increase the plant life in an otherwise sparse overwintering environment," Mikula said.

Rainfall in the deserts, where the North American painted ladies lay their eggs, is the reason for the large amount this year.

The substantial rain caused plants to thrive, giving the painted lady caterpillars plenty of food.

"More host plants means more caterpillars that will eventually become more butterflies. I have been fortunate to witness such massive migrations firsthand over the past few decades," Mikula said.

Painted lady butterflies are found on every continent except Antarctica and South America.

"I have also experienced massive migrations of snout butterflies in Texas where it was impossible to drive on the highways without using your windshield wipers," Mikula said.

Unlike some other butterflies, painted lady butterflies lack red receptors, which means that they are likely red-green color-blind.

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"The painted is also well renowned for its annual migration from the U.K. to Africa where tens of millions of individuals are actually tracked by radar. On the reverse route they have been shown to fly from Africa as far north as the Arctic Circle," Mikula said.

To help butterflies, such as Monarchs, whose population has been dropping, experts suggest planting milkweed.

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