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Painted Ladies

by Brittney Gonzalez, ENC Communications Intern

Have you seen butterflies flitting around lately?


Butterflies known as “Painted Ladies”, are currently migrating north from Mexico where they have been recently spotted all over Riverside, Orange, and Los Angeles counties. This year’s rain has really propelled the population increase, because there are more host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs. They will travel as far as their “fat reserves allow them”, says ABC News, from the desert plants they were hatched. Most painted ladies will live between 2-6 weeks, so after making the trip from Northern Mexico, they then make their next stop on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas up in Northern California. Here they will either lay eggs and die, or continue on with the next generation butterflies to the Pacific Northwest.

Painted Lady host plants:

Lupin Lupinus spp.
Thistle Cirsium spp.
Nettle Urtica spp.
Fiddleneck Amsinckia spp.

My first thought after finding out about these butterflies was “How do these butterflies know which direction to travel once the second generation is born half way through the migration?” After doing a little web research, we know that these delicate insects definitely use the sun as a guide, or their migration patterns might be linked to what Thought Co. says is “El Niño climate pattern”. There are still studies being conducted to find out more information on how the butterflies know which direction to fly, but what we do know more about is their flying patterns. They can fly almost 30 miles per hour, as low as 6-12 feet from the ground, or so high that no one can see them (Thought Co). When they slow down or get cold, it makes the butterfly susceptible to being eaten by birds that feed on them. If there are cooler cloudy days, the butterflies may tend to group up, assuming they are trying to stay warm. When winter comes around, instead of migrating like other butterflies, they will die (Thought Co.) All is well, because the ones that die along the way will not hugely effect the population. I know many people have been trying to seek out these butterflies because they want to see the migration, but there really is no way to tell where and when they will be seen next. One thing is for sure— Painted Ladies love to nectar on native plants, so if you have that plant in your yard, you might get the chance to see these beautiful fluttering creatures.

Native nectar plants preferred by Painted Ladies:

Arctostaphylos spp (Manzanitas)

Asclepias fascicularis (Narrow Leaved Milkweed)

Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed)

Baccharis spp (Coyotebrush, Mulefat, etc.)

Cirsium spp. (thistles)

Eriodictyon spp.(Yerba Santa)

Eriogonum spp. (buckwheats)

Monardella (certain mints)

Rhamnus spp. (coffee berry)

Come to our Native Plant Sale on March 23 to purchase native host and nectar plants for several butterfly species!

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