Country Corner - Butterfly ready for an African adventure

The Painted Lady will soon begin its exodus to Africa.
The Painted Lady will soon begin its exodus to Africa.

The Painted Lady is a British butterfly which I always consider to be an African butterfly, writes George Hogg (Hogg Estate Services).

There is something in the wing patterns which very much resembles those seen on fabrics in many parts of Africa,

There is also the fact that any Painted Lady you see in autumn is either on its way to Africa or very soon will be.

But how can something so seemingly fragile as a butterfly, possibly endure a migration of thousands of miles across seas, deserts and mountain ranges?

Even now we are just beginning to map the unimaginable wanderings of this nomadic sylph which arrives on our southern shores in spring.

We did not know if the Painted Lady made the return journey at the end of the summer.

In one of the largest citizen science projects ever conducted, scientists finally discovered the truth about this long-distance migrant.

The Painted Lady does indeed migrate south each autumn but makes this return journey at high altitude out of view of observers on the ground.

Radar records revealed that Painted Ladies fly at an average altitude of more than 500 metres on their southbound trip and can clock up speeds of 30mph by selecting favourable conditions.

The whole journey is not undertaken by individual butterflies but in a series of steps by successive generations.

So Painted Ladies returning to Africa in the autumn are several generations removed from their ancestors who left Africa earlier in the year.

We also thought the origins of their journey was in North Africa.

Now Painted Ladies have been found south of the Sahara!

What next for this familiar sight in our gardens and countryside?