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‘Absolutely Magical’: Southern California Sees Largest Painted Lady Migration Since 2005
"Everyone was posting about the butterflies all over Instagram," a woman told CBS Los Angeles Tuesday. "I saw so many, it was kinda like a swarm of them. It was pretty insane."
The butterflies are passing through as part of their yearly migration from the deserts of Southeast California to the Pacific Northwest, but this year they are doing so in numbers not seen since 2005, when they totaled around one billion.
"When they are scarce nobody notices them," University of California (UC) Davis ecologist Art Shapiro told The Los Angeles Times. "When they are abundant, everyone notices."
For Shapiro, who has been monitoring California's butterflies for almost 50 years, it's a welcome change. He only counted 25,200 Painted Ladies in 2018, down from 315,997 the year before, an alarming trend in a state that is seeing butterfly populations decline across the board.
But this year, that trend has reversed and then some.
"They were flying parallel to me, just bobbing along as I rode past the date palms," The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens Conservation Director James Danoff-Burg told The Los Angeles Times. "It was absolutely magical. I felt like a Disney princess."
The reason for the population's explosion has been California's unusually wet winter.
"The average annual rainfall in the Coachella Valley is 3 inches," Danoff-Burg said. "This year, we had 3½ inches on Valentine's Day alone."
The rain led to a desert wildflower bloom, giving the caterpillars more to eat and a greater chance of surviving. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, for example, has reported excellent wildflower viewing this year, NBC News reported.
However, the Painted Lady rebound doesn't necessarily mean that other California butterflies will recover.
"They are a boom-bust species," University of Nevada, Reno ecologist Matt Forister told The Los Angeles Times. "In some ways, they are the most successful butterflies on the planet."
California's overall butterfly population reached historic lows in 2018. A monarch butterfly count found numbers of the iconic species were down 85 percent compared to the year before, and Forister said at least 20 other species were declining even faster than the monarch.
Scientists think land use and farming changes that lead to less open space and fewer butterfly-friendly plants, an increased use of pesticides and climate change could all be contributing to a decrease in butterflies.
"There is not one cause for the butterfly decline — that's not how population extinction happens," Forister said. "It's more likely a suite of factors that are pushing on all these species."
Painted Ladies, though, are tough.
"They can pace cars at 25 miles per hour," Shapiro told NBC News.
The butterflies travel north for as long as their fat reserves will take them, then pause to breed. The next generation continues the trip. The butterflies then migrate back south in the winter.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Melissa Kravitz
Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.
By Kim Knowlton
A new paper just out in The Lancet Planetary Health provides the first global indication that recent temperature increases, propelled by climate change, are in fact contributing significantly to longer and more intense pollen seasons.
EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.
By Julia Conley
In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.
That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.
At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive: