Nature on our doorstep - The impressive journey of the Painted Lady

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures. 

While many know that swallows and swifts migrate long distances to breed in Ireland every year, the remarkable journey of the Painted Lady butterfly is perhaps less well known.

This butterfly’s story begins in the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa.

Garden Sedum flowers offer rich nectar before the return journey to Africa 1

Garden Sedum flowers offer rich nectar to the butterflies before their return journey to Africa

In March, once adult butterflies mate and lay their eggs, thousands of new Painted Ladies begin their long migration.

Flying north over mountains and desert, the first stop is Spain where they replenish vital energy on nectar-rich springtime flowers.

Some stay and breed in Spain while most continue northwards, even as far as Scandinavia.

Depending on weather conditions in Europe, Painted Ladies begin to appear in Ireland in May or June.

On arriving, they mate and lay their eggs on nettles and thistles.

Painted Lady Butterflies first arrive in Ireland around May 1

Painted Lady butterflies begin to appear inIreland around May or June

In late summer, the return journey begins for the new brood of adults. Following only internal instincts, they make the long flight all the way back to the Atlas Mountains.

On their 2,500km journey to Ireland, they can travel as far as 130km in one day, sometimes flying as fast as 50km per hour.

During their return migration they fly at very high altitudes of around 3,000 feet.

For an insect that weighs no more than one tenth of the weight of a paper clip, this migration journey truly is a mighty achievement.

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