Butterfly migration mystery solved
The secrets of the UK’s migrating painted lady butterfly population have been revealed by scientists who have discovered where they go in autumn.
The insect flies from the continent each summer to the UK, but experts have not known until now whether they headed south again in autumn, like the closely-related red admiral, or if they died in the UK.
With the help of 60,000 public sightings across Europe, including efforts by 10,000 British volunteers, and highly sensitive radar surveying during the mass migration of painted ladies in 2009, the mystery has been solved.
Scientists found the painted lady migrated south in autumn, but high in the sky out of sight of human observers, averaging an altitude of 500 metres (1,600ft) and clocking up speeds of 30mph by selecting favourable conditions.
The species undertakes a phenomenal 9,000-mile round trip from tropical Africa right up to the Arctic Circle, the researchers from Butterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the University of York and Rothamsted Research discovered.
The entire length of the journey is not undertaken by a single individual but by successive generations, so that painted ladies returning to Africa in autumn are several generations removed from those which left the continent in the spring.
But Richard Fox, surveys manager at Butterfly Conservation, said many of the individual butterflies arriving in the UK will have come as far as from north Africa and home-grown painted ladies will head there in the autumn.
He said: “The extent of the annual journey undertaken by the painted lady is astonishing. This tiny creature weighing less than a gram with a brain the size of a pin head and no opportunity to learn from older, experienced individuals, undertakes an epic intercontinental migration in order to find plants for its caterpillars to eat.
“Once thought to be blindly led, at the mercy of the wind, into an evolutionary dead end in the lethal British winter, this amazing combination of mass-participation citizen science and cutting-edge technology has shown painted ladies to be sophisticated travellers.”
Dr Jason Chapman, a researcher at Rothamsted Research, said: “The apparent lack of a return migration of the late-summer generation of painted lady butterflies was one of the greatest enigmas in insect migration ecology. But through a combination of traditional monitoring by butterfly enthusiasts and new radar techniques, we have finally solved this long-standing puzzle.”
Latest posts by Silversurfer's Editor (see all)
- Should teaching the National Anthem at school be compulsory? - January 17, 2018
- Best Coffee makers guide - January 15, 2018
- How some children perceive their grandparents - January 12, 2018
- Heat your room up to 60% faster than a standard radiator with the newly-launched Stanton RadBooster - January 12, 2018
- Do you pay 5p for a plastic bag or take your own? - January 10, 2018
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!