Edinburgh braced for painted lady butterfly invasion in ‘once-in-a-decade’ phenomenon

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.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 8:15 pm
Painted lady butterflies. Picture: Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire
Painted lady butterflies. Picture: Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

TV naturalist Chris Packham is urging people to take part in the annual Big Butterfly Count to see if the painted ladies are arriving in their millions to the UK’s shores this year.

The butterfly is a common immigrant from the Continent to the UK each summer where its caterpillars feed on thistles, but around once every ten years there is a painted lady “summer” when millions arrive en masse.

More than 70 Painted Lady butterflies have been seen along the Scottish coast from Aberdeen to Inverness.

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Both of Scotland’s largest cities have featured sightings, with 33 in Edinburgh and more than 20 in Glasgow. The butterflies have also been spotted near places like Dumfries, the Isle of Tiree and Islay.

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, which runs the Big Butterfly Count, said unusually high numbers had been reported across Europe over the spring and early summer with large numbers now spotted crossing to the UK.

The last mass immigration took place in 2008 when around 11 million painted ladies migrated to the UK.

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

“Travelling up to 1km in the sky and at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, these 
seemingly fragile creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year,” he said. “This 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.

“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.

Experts say taking part in the count has benefits for those participating, with research showing watching wildlife and spending time in nature can have positive benefits for mental health and wellbeing.

Mr Packham added: “The mental health benefits of spending time outdoors watching nature have been blindingly obvious to me for as long as I can remember.”