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

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

“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. 03-13-19

Read more at EcoWatch