Painted Lady Butterflies Above-Average Migration Putting On Magnificent Show

Why are we seeing more Painted Lady Butterflies this year?

Painted lady butterflies are having a moment. Or rather, a year. While the beautiful butterflies can pretty much be found everywhere in North America at different times of the year, their number is higher than usual this fall all over the Upper Midwest.

The painted lady is often mistaken for the monarch butterfly, but their color scheme is different. Painted ladies have eyespots on the underside of their wings and brown coloring on both sides. Painted ladies do not have the same vein pattern seen on monarchs. And, the painted lady butterflies appear smaller than monarchs, with a wingspan measuring less than 3 inches.

painted lady butterfly photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

Why So Many Painted Ladies This Year?

Jonathan Larson, a Nebraska Extension entomologist in Omaha, told the Omaha World-Herald the butterfly boom can likely be attributed to ample rains this year in California. Some evidence says the migration of the painted lady could also be linked to the El Niño climate pattern.

The butterflies start their migration in California. Then, they spend their summer in cooler places until they head south in the fall. It is this trip south that is leading to quite a colorful fall show, especially against the backdrop of changing leaves.

painted lady butterfly photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

People posting about Painted Lady Butterflies

People living in the areas where the painted ladies pass through can’t get enough of the show. Many of them post on Instagram to share some gorgeous photos. A search for#paintedladybutterfly brings up more than 5,000 posts! Here are a few shots showcasing their amazing beauty during this year’s migration:


Painted lady butterflies migrate in the thousands and their colors make them hard to miss.  And, they can cover up to 100 miles per day during migration and are capable of reaching speeds of nearly 30 mph. So, if live in or travel to anywhere in the Upper Midwest, keep an eye out. They could fly away before you know it!

painted lady butterfly photo
Flickr | DrPhotoMoto

If you missed this year’s migration, there are certain plants that painted ladies prefer and if you plant them next spring, you’re more likely to get some of the butterflies in your own backyard. Try planting goldenrods, marigolds and everlastings or aster, blazing stars and thistle. The painted lady also gathers nectar from daisies, ironwood and red clover.