Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

‘Absolutely Magical’: Southern California Sees Largest Painted Lady Migration Since 2005

Popular
Painted Ladies feeding near Thousand Palms, California as part of a massive migration north. David McNew / Getty Images

Southern California is in the midst of a "magical" surprise: unusually large swarms of Painted Lady butterflies filling the skies from San Diego to Pasadena.

"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

A scenic view of West Papua. Reza Fakhrudin / Pexels

By Arkilaus Kladit

My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.

Read More Show Less
Everyone overthinks their lives or options every once in a while. Some people, however, can't stop the wheels and halt their train of thoughts. Peter Griffith / Getty Images

By Farah Aqel

Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.

Read More Show Less
A newly developed catalyst would transform carbon dioxide from power plants and other sources into ethanol. DWalker44 / E+ / Getty Images

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a cheap, efficient way to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, potentially reducing the amount of new carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

Read More Show Less
Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic taken by NASA's Operation IceBridge in 2014. NASA / Michael Studinger / Flickr / CC by 2.0

A 4,000-year-old ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed into the sea, leaving Canada without any fully intact ice shelves, Reuters reported. The Milne Ice Shelf lost more than 40 percent of its area in just two days at the end of July, said researchers who monitored its collapse.

Read More Show Less
Teachers and activists attend a protest hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois on Aug. 3, 2020 to demand classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening. KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus cases surging around the U.S. are often carried by kids, raising fears that the reopening of schools will be delayed and calling into question the wisdom of school districts that have reopened already.

Read More Show Less
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds up COVID-19 alert levels during a press conference at Parliament on March 21, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson

On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Medics with Austin-Travis County EMS transport a nursing home resident with coronavirus symptoms on Aug. 3, 2020 in Austin, Texas. John Moore / Getty Images

The U.S. passed five million coronavirus cases on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, just 17 days after it hit the four-million case mark.

Read More Show Less