Painted Lady Butterfly Migration

Painted Lady butterfly migration
The UK could be experiencing a once-in-a-decade wildlife phenomenon this year with a mass influx of painted lady butterflies, experts have said.

TV naturalist Chris Packham is urging people to take part in the world's largest insect citizen science survey, the annual Big Butterfly Count, to see if the painted ladies are arriving in their millions to the UK's shores this year.

The painted lady butterfly is a common immigrant from the continent to the UK each summer where its caterpillars feed on thistles (you can see why they're heading to Scotland) but around once every 10 years there is a painted lady "summer" when millions arrive en masse.

This summer is set to be just that rare summer as the wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, which runs the Big Butterfly Count, said unusually high numbers have been reported across Europe over the spring and early summer with large numbers now spotted crossing to the UK.

There have been more than 300 early sightings in Scotland already - with 33 in Edinburgh, more than 20 in Glasgow as well as sightings in areas like Dumfries and Aberdeen.

The last mass immigration took place in 2008 when around 11 million painted ladies migrated to the UK. The seemingly delicate creatures actually travel at speeds of up to 30mph and migrate hundreds of miles to our shores every year.

A painted lady butterfly undertakes an extraordinary 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year - almost double the length of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America.

Mr Packham, who is vice president of Butterfly Conservation, said the painted lady migration was "one of the wonders of the natural world".

"Signs across Europe are looking very promising, meaning that 2019 could be a very good year for the Painted Lady with high numbers already being recorded across parts of the UK.

"The butterfly can turn up anywhere so please take part in the Big Butterfly Count and look out for them - you could be witnessing a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon."

Participants are encouraged to spot and record 17 species of common butterfly, including painted ladies, and two day-flying moths in the UK during three weeks of high summer, to help experts see how the insects are faring.

Butterfly Conservation is being supported by mental health charity Mind to champion the benefits of spending time in nature, and is sponsored by B&Q.

To take part in the count, which runs from July 19 to August 11, people just need to find a sunny spot anywhere in the UK and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies they see, and then submit sightings online here or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.