California Nature


Butterflies Swarming the Beaches

By Chris MacDonald

You've probably wondered about swarms of butterflies zigzagging & fluttering in a hurried manner, as they race north through Seal Beach. They're usually going so fast, it's hard to determine who these intriguing visitors are. Experts say they're "Painted Ladies."

"This is unprecedented. I've never seen so many butterflies in flight, my entire life," said Janet Jackson of Main Street Mercantile, who was born and raised in Long Beach. "Yesterday, they swarmed the windshields of my car," said Brita Lemmon, proprietor of Brita's Old Town Gardens on Main, where some have stopped long enough to gather nectar from flowers and trees. "I look out my second floor window above Main and see them in the trees," said Gary Putnam, who was a Botany Major in college. "I think the Santa Ana Winds are blowing them closer to the coast."

"There hasn't been a migration like this since 2005," said Leslie Gilson, Restoration Coordinator of Gibbs Butterfly Park (16641 Graham St., Huntington Beach), which is named after Seal Beach and Huntington Beach Mayor Norma Brandel Gibbs. "The Painted Ladies are smaller and faster than Monarchs. They're on a fast migration north."

The Painted Ladies—millions of them—are heading from deserts in Mexico toward Canada, often at speeds as high as 30mph, covering up to 100 miles a day. The flight stage of their lives ranges from 2 to 4 weeks, while they reproduce and lay eggs. When the next generation becomes adult, they continue North. The Painted Ladies drink from nectar plants, which provide liquid nutrients. Many are identified by the black & white corners of their deep orange, black–spotted wings. They blend in with many environments. The size of the northerly migration is influenced by wildflower blooms. The recent rains in the West have increased the migration size. They are found in most other countries of the world.

We're lucky to see the Painted Ladies in Seal Beach because they've been observed at altitudes above 20,000 feet.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

More Info