Journey to the Center of Africa


You have probably heard about the monarch butterfly’s amazing 10,000 kilometer (about 6,200 miles) yearly voyage to Mexico for the winter. But now scientists have discovered a butterfly that makes the monarch’s migration look like child’s play: the painted lady!

Researchers have known for many years that painted lady butterflies living in Southern Europe migrated to Africa in the fall, but what happened to them next remained a mystery. They speculated that these winged travelers either remained in Africa or made the long journey back to Europe, but there was no evidence to support either hypothesis. This week a new study has found the answer by analyzing the chemicals found in the butterflies’ wings! It turns out that not only do these amazing creatures travel over 12,000 kilometers (2,000 more than the monarch) and cross the Sahara desert (the largest hot desert in the world), but they also make the round-trip journey home. The scientists found chemical signatures in the butterflies’ wings collected in Europe, which indicated that as a caterpillar the butterflies had been happily munching away in tropical regions of Africa, before returning to Europe in the Spring. The researchers believe it is possible that some painted ladies make the journey home in one lifetime. This is very unlike other migratory insects such as monarchs, which can take as many as five generations to reach their winter hibernation grounds. The painted lady is clearly not just pretty to look at, it is one tough bug.

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June 25, 2018

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