Sunday, December 6, 2009

December Surprise

Imagine my surprise when I stepped outside on Thursday to get the mail and I found this:

A Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) nectoring on my pansies.  The winds had been blowing strongly from the South so I suspect she was blown up here from somewhere warmer. 

In New England Painted Lady butterflies show up mid to late summer.  They do not overwinter here, instead the butterflies we see migrate up here from their wintering grounds further South.  Monarchs are the butterflies best known from their migration but it turns out that many butterfly species, dragonflies, and probably other flying insects also migrate.  It's hard to study these migrations.  Monarchs are large butterflies and they can be tagged with numbers but most other insect migrants can't due to their smaller size.  Add to that the fact that scientists are dependent on people finding the insects and reporting the numbers on the wings and you can see how challenging the study of insect migration must be.

I'm glad I planted those pansies.  The Painted Lady was just a nice December surprise.

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