The Painted Lady returns to The Weir

Painted Lady butterfly on a tree

A decade ago, the UK saw a mass immigration of around 11 million painted ladies, this year we may see similar figures; a true wonder of the natural world.

Many UK butterflies hibernate over the colder months, storing their energy until the warmer months arrive an exception being the painted lady butterfly which is a long-distance migrant. This summer has seen a flux of these distinctive orange and black butterflies return throughout the UK, echoing the ‘Painted Lady Summer’ of 2009. These two-inch wonders may look fragile but migrate nearly 2,500 miles from Europe, traversing such obstacles such as the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa's mountains, and the Sahara Desert.

A painted lady with its wings closed
A painted lady on brambles
A painted lady with its wings closed

The painted lady butterfly embarks on a round trip every year from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle. This impressive journey is completed through several generations of butterfly, although it is possible for a single generation to complete the journey but this is very unusual; they reproduce throughout their migration allowing continuation. While it is a common migrant from Europe to the UK each summer it is only once every decade we receive a mass migration which scientists suggest is down to favourable breeding conditions along the butterfly’s route.

A painted lady caterpillar
A painted lady caterpillar
A painted lady caterpillar

The painted lady is often a welcome sight in English gardens as it helps pollinate throughout late summer. The butterfly does not over-winter in the UK so will reproduce and leave again by autumn time. The exhausting lifestyle of the painted lady is thought to be a survival technique; originating from North Africa it has been suggested that the urge to migrate is triggered when an individual encounters a certain density of its own kind within a given area. This makes sense as a high density of butterfly within a given area could mean food sources being stripped bare, meaning their caterpillars would perish.

Keep your eyes peeled when you next visit The Weir, the garden has seen masses of these wonderful creatures so far.