Back to Butterflies

I heard another interesting tidbit about a very common butterfly the other day. It’s worth sharing, just to prove there are still things out there to discover, right on our own planet.

The painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) is very common and perhaps the most widespread butterfly on the planet.  Wikipedia says that it is commonly used in classrooms to demonstrate for children the life cycle of a butterfly and shows up frequently in science fair projects.

So what makes this little run-of-the-mill butterfly discovery-worthy?

First, here are some fast facts about the Painted Lady:

  • weighs .04 ounces, with a brain the size of a pin head
  • is found on every continent except Antarctica and South America
  • is known for a distinct migratory behavior
  • has a strange pattern of flying in a sort of screw shape
  • it takes six successive generations of the butterfly to complete the migration from Europe to Africa and back again
  • weather impacts their migration pattern, hence global climate events such as El Nino may affect their migratory behavior
  • European butterflies use favorable wind currents to fly at a rate of around 30 mph to travel up to 9,300 miles annually (Monarchs travel about 6,000 miles on their migratory route.)
  • research seems to indicate that the butterflies use a solar compass to guide their journey

Secondly, until about four years ago, it was thought that the European Painted Lady simply died out when the weather got cold because no one witnessed the southern migration. However, scientists at Rothamsted Research used entomological radar, while Butterfly Conservation encouraged volunteers to report sightings, and it was discovered that these butterflies migrate at an altitude of more than 1,600 feet, for the most part invisible to humans, to their African destination.

What amazing tiny travellers!

We still have so much to learn about the world around us.

For further reading:

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