Walk outside and look around – what at first looks like a myriad of colours and flowers are actually butterflies. They’re usually so still that you only notice them when they flutter.
Utah is known for the butterflies that visit it every year. This year, 2019 has seen the largest painted lady migration since 1991 with large numbers of the butterflies seen across the Intermountain West.
Across the state Utahns are seeing an unusually high number of butterflies – in the trees, parks, yards and foothills. They seem ubiquitous thanks to a wet winter in the deserts of Mexico and southern California, where they stay for the colder months. The rain meant more plants, which meant more food for the insects, so more survived to make the annual trek north.
Some experts estimate at least a billion painted lady to sojourn this year.
They are easy to spot because of the sheer number of them. Right now if you spot a medium sized orange-ish butterfly, it is most like a painted lady – that’s how many of then are there in Utah right now.
There butterflies are also always on a missions – That’s how you can them apart from their local cousins, such as the American lady butterfly. While butterflies that stay in Utah might bop leisurely from flower to flower, searching for a host plant on which to lay eggs, the painted ladies flutter past fast. They’re trying to get where they’re going — while they do stop occasionally to eat or lay an egg. Adult painted ladies only live a few weeks and lay eggs during the migration so their offspring can continue the journey.
Painted ladies are solitary insects and don’t migrate in swarms. If you see a lot of them together, it’s just because they’re generally all trying to get to the same place. While some of these insects will choose to stay here, lay eggs and usher in a new generation, many will move on.