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Painted lady butterfly migration mystery solved

17/11/2009 09:26:17

This summer was a bumper migration year with, at the peak, up to a billion Painted Ladies in Britain.

Painted ladies do migrate south in autumn
November 2009. Scientists with the charity Butterfly Conservation believe they have solved one of nature's long-standing mysteries - thanks to the help of the public.

Every year Painted Lady butterflies arrive in the UK from North Africa and the Mediterranean. It has long been known that they breed here during the summer and also that they cannot normally survive our winters. What happens to these Painted Ladies as winter approaches was unknown until now.

Scientists had been baffled as to whether Painted Ladies attempted to "tough it out" and died trying during our winters. Or was there a return southward migration to warmer climes, as is the case with Red Admiral butterflies? Part of the problem has been that, unlike these other migrants, there was very little evidence of Painted Ladies flying south in the autumn.

12,000 sightings reported
Butterfly Conservation has been monitoring Painted Lady movements since the start of northward migration at the beginning of the year, with members of the public being able to report sightings online at There has been a huge response, not only from the UK but from across Europe. An amazing 12,000 sightings have been submitted so far, with reports still coming in.

Painted ladies heading south over the Channel
Last month brought some particularly exciting reports. From the Channel coasts of Cornwall, Devon, Sussex and Kent sightings were reported of Painted Ladies heading straight out to sea towards continental Europe.

Now reports have been received of butterflies arriving back in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation's surveys manager, said: "Several of these lucky observers saw more than one butterfly head out on its perilous voyage. This is exactly the evidence needed to lay this enduring mystery to rest. Painted Ladies do return southwards from Britain in the autumn enabling the species to continue its breeding cycle during the winter months".


Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

Painted Lady migration

I raise Monarch butterflies and usually just give passing appreciation to other butterflies. This year there have been a huge number of painted ladies in Connecticut where I live. This past Wednesday I was at the beach in Misquamicut, RI, and was intrigued by the constant passing of Monarchs seemingly coming from the water- the migration starting. I counted seven or so every minute! While standing on the shore near the water, I watched a butterfly come in, and I thought, "What a small Monarch". It was a painted lady, and the minute it cleared the water, it landed on the sand; I figured it was resting. I watched this again and again. The Monarchs would just keep flying, but the painted ladies would each stop on the sand. I don't know if anyone cares about this, but I thought it was pretty interesting!

Posted by: Joy | 01 Sep 2012 02:35:56

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