Quantcast

‘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

Pick one of these nine activism styles, and you can start making change. YES! Illustrations by Delphine Lee

By Cathy Brown

Most of us have heard about UN researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.

Read More Show Less
Jamie Grill Photography / Getty Images

Losing weight, improving heart health and decreasing your chances for metabolic diseases like diabetes may be as simple as cutting back on a handful of Oreos or saying no to a side of fries, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
A boy gives an impromptu speech about him not wanting to die in the next 10 years during the protest on July 15. The Scottish wing of the Extinction Rebellion environmental group of Scotland locked down Glasgow's Trongate for 12 hours in protest of climate change. Stewart Kirby / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

It's important to remember that one person can make a difference. From teenagers to world-renowned scientists, individuals are inspiring positive shifts around the world. Maybe you won't become a hard-core activist, but this list of people below can inspire simple ways to kickstart better habits. Here are seven people advocating for a better planet.

Read More Show Less
A group of wind turbines in a field in Banffshire, Northeast Scotland. Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Scotland produced enough power from wind turbines in the first half of 2019, that it could power Scotland twice over. Put another way, it's enough energy to power all of Scotland and most of Northern England, according to the BBC — an impressive step for the United Kingdom, which pledged to be carbon neutral in 30 years.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Beekeeper Jeff Anderson works with members of his family in this photo from 2014. He once employed all of his adult children but can no longer afford to do so. CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

It's been a particularly terrible summer for bees. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is allowing the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor back on the market. And just a few weeks prior, the USDA announced it is suspending data collection for its annual honeybee survey, which tracks honeybee populations across the U.S., providing critical information to farmers and scientists.

Read More Show Less

tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rachel Licker

As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to get confused about which foods are healthy and which aren't.

Read More Show Less