Trav­eller’s tales: the painted lady

This high-fly­ing mi­grant covers an as­ton­ish­ing 9,000 miles a year, trav­el­ling from Africa to Europe and back

Garden Answers (UK) - - Wildlife -

Each year, painted lady but­ter­flies fly north from the At­las moun­tains on the edge of the Sa­hara desert in North Africa to find Euro­pean breed­ing sites. They ar­rive in the UK ev­ery year and breed here dur­ing sum­mer, with their off­spring then em­i­grat­ing south­wards. Typ­i­cally the first big in­flux each year takes place in late May/early June. Num­bers vary greatly each year, but the last mass mi­gra­tion oc­curred in 2009. The re­turn jour­ney is made at high al­ti­tude – radar records sug­gest an av­er­age al­ti­tude of more than 500m on their south­bound trip, trav­el­ling at speeds of 30mph by se­lect­ing favourable con­di­tions. The tiny but­ter­flies cover an amaz­ing 9,000-mile round trip from Africa as far as the Arc­tic Cir­cle – in a series of steps by up to six suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions. “The ex­tent of their an­nual jour­ney is as­ton­ish­ing,” says Richard Fox, Sur­veys Man­ager at But­ter­fly Con­ser­va­tion. “This tiny crea­ture weigh­ing less than a gram with a brain the size of a pin head and no op­por­tu­nity to learn from ex­pe­ri­enced in­di­vid­u­als, un­der­takes an epic in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mi­gra­tion to find the right plants for its cater­pil­lars to eat.” What a treat to find them in our gardens!

“Radar records sug­gest an av­er­age al­ti­tude of 500m, at speeds of 30mph”

Painted lady cater­pil­lar (Vanesssa car­dui)

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