- Author: Norman Smith
- Editor: Noni Todd
Painted Lady Butterflies
By Norman Smith UCCE Master Gardener
Look up in the sky - it's a bird, it's a plane, no it's millions of Painted Lady Butterflies. The abundant rains this year are going to have an effect on a lot of different insects. One of those is the Painted Lady Butterfly. If you have had a chance to look up in the sky or at the environment around you, you may have noticed a lot of butterflies flying through the area or visiting flowers for nectar. These have flown up from the southern California deserts where the abundant rain down there produced a bumper crop of caterpillars and subsequent butterflies. With most of their food consumed by the caterpillars, the adults head north where their host plants are still in good shape and are nice and juicy and green from the rains. They will lay eggs on Hollyhock, Malva, cheese weed and other related plants. You may notice their caterpillars on these plants in the coming weeks.
This generation will hatch, creating more adults and continue north. Subsequent generations will make it to Washington or southern Canada. In the late summer or fall, they will turn around and head back down to the deserts at a more leisurely pace.
I have noticed a number of these migrations during the past 40 years. They are always associated with abundant rainfall years. Many folks will call these miniature monarch butterflies. But these are not small monarchs. They are their own species, totally unrelated to the monarch. When you realize that this same migration is occurring all across the width of California, you can imagine how many butterflies are involved. The Coast Range Mountains, Bakersfield, the Central Valley, Porterville and the Yosemite Valley are seeing this same migration. That's a lot of butterflies! Butterfly populations have taken a hit during the past drought years, but they can turn things around quickly when conditions become favorable. Hopefully our local monarch populations will find an increased amount of their host plant from this rain and increase their numbers too.