Scottie's Diary

- 2009, A Painted Lady Butterfly Year

Painted Lady

The Painted Lady butterfly is found worldwide, with the exception of South America. It occurs in most of Europe only as a migrant and summer breeding species. Each year, it spreads northwards from the desert fringes of mainly North Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea, recolonising mainland Europe and eventually reaching Britain and Ireland, a distance of over 800 miles.

Painted Lady Butterflies

As can be seen from the illustrations on this page, the beautiful markings and metallic jewel-like appearance of the Painted Lady are much more impressive than the official description of "orange-brown wings with black and white spots on forewing. Undersides mottled brown with spots."

Adults can be seen in the Scotland as far north as Orkney and Shetland islands in any month of the year but the peak usually follows the main migration into the UK around June. These immigrants breed in the UK and the resulting fresh individuals (showing more of a pink colour) can be seen on the wing from early July. They may be seen in any habitat although they do tend to congregate in open sunny areas

The Painted Lady butterfly (with a wing span of 2 inches) can fly over 1,000 miles in its life and reach speeds of 8-10mph. The Painted Ladies that are born here do not survive beyond autumn.

"Painted Lady Years"
Every so often there is a "Painted Lady Year" when a combination of climate and lack of food plants results in millions leaving North Africa and flying across Europe. Clouds of them arrive along the south coast of England and many head further north. The clouds of Painted Ladies crossing the English Channel from continental Europe show up on air traffic control radar screens, the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

2009 - "A Painted Lady Year" The last time there was a major Painted Lady Year was in 2003. 2009 has been a particularly bad year for seeing butterflies - most species don't fly in cold, wet weather. So it was with increasing frustration that I read in the newspapers in May and June that many thousands of Painted Ladies had been seen crossing the English Channel to the coast of southern England.

I did see some Painted Lady butterflies in the walled garden at Culzean Castle Country Park in June, but not any large numbers. Then, last Saturday, I hit the jackpot in a visit to Kellie Castle and especially the walled garden on the Cambo Estate in the north of Fife. Cambo had many hundreds of these beautiful insects almost covering many of the food plants - Buddleja bushes and Marjoram seemed to be a favourite. I counted 30 on one Marjoram plant alone and that didn't include those basking on the path in front. We had to watch where we stood as quite a number were on those footpaths - they sometimes go for the salt there.

For people such as myself, who enjoy seeing butterflies of any kind, this was a fantastic experience. Butterflies galore!

Slide Show and Video

Although this diary page has a good number of graphics of Painted Ladies, I've also created a Windows Media Presentation with another ten graphics of Painted Lady butterflies (and a sound track, so make sure our speakers are turned on!). Most browsers should display the presentation correctly. If you want to download the slide show, just right click on the link and save or download to your PC. Likewise there is a brief (15 seconds) video showing the butterflies flitting around in some numbers on a marjoram plant and basking on a pathway.

As the final slide says: "Roll on the next Painted Lady Year"!

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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