Environment

Painted lady butterflies are fluttering through SLO County on their way up California

Watch painted lady butterflies flutter along Vineyard Drive in Templeton

Painted lady butterflies fly north along Vineyard Drive in Templeton, California, on Sunday, March 17, 2019. The butterflies are flying through San Luis Obispo County as part of their migration from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest.
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Painted lady butterflies fly north along Vineyard Drive in Templeton, California, on Sunday, March 17, 2019. The butterflies are flying through San Luis Obispo County as part of their migration from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest.

The painted lady butterflies have put on a show in Southern California — and their determined migration north has finally reached San Luis Obispo County.

On Sunday, streams of the fluttering butterflies were spotted moving through North County, and sightings near Arroyo Grande, Nipomo, Santa Margarita and Atascadero have also been reported on social media.

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They are particularly visible to drivers on east-west roads like Vineyard Drive and Highway 46 West in Templeton, where their flight pattern directly crosses traffic. When they find flowering plants and bushes along the way, they make pit stops for a bite to eat.

The insects, which look similar to monarch butterflies, are in the middle of their normal migration from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest, according to Curbed Los Angeles.

But while painted ladies may look like monarchs, “they’re a completely different species,” Ronnie Glick, senior environmental scientist at the Oceano Dunes District of California State Parks, told The Tribune in a phone interview.

That’s bad news for anyone thinking about going to the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove to catch a glimpse of the flying wonders.

“They’ll be very disappointed,” Glick said. “Painted ladies don’t congregate at our site in appreciable numbers.”

Glick added, however, that he spotted some painted ladies when he went out to the Carrizo Plain to see wildflowers over the weekend.

“There were a decent number of painted ladies as we were driving in,” Glick said, adding that he didn’t see nearly as many as people in other parts of Southern California have reported seeing so far. “It’s pretty spectacular, reading some of the accounts from Southern California.”

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Painted lady butterflies were spotted along Vineyard Drive in Templeton on Sunday, March 17, 2019. The butterflies are in the middle of their northward migration from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. Joe Tarica jtarica@thetribunenews.com

The butterflies can fly at speeds as fast as 25 mph, the New York Times reported.

“The striking thing is they’re moving very rapidly and directionally,” Arthur M. Shapiro, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, told the New York Times.

Fullerton butterfly enthusiast Monika Moore had a particularly apt observation for their behavior.

“They’re in a hurry, like the rabbit in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ Moore told the Times. “They have a very important date.”

The sheer number of butterflies this year is the largest its been since 2005, when about 1 billion painted ladies were counted, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The large numbers of butterflies sweeping up through California at present coincides with super blooms throughout the state. And both the butterflies and the super blooms can thank one main factor — rain — for a bumper year.

“Rain is good for everything,” Matt Forister, an ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, told the L.A. Times.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.


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