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The Butterfly Boom

Painted Lady photographed in Escondido by Richard Murphy

Monarch populations on steep decline despite Painted Lady population boom

Winter rainfall has created waves of butterflies as a large migration heads north from Mexico‘s Sonoran Desert. The painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) are currently creating vibrant orange flashes through gardens and city streets as they flutter through North County by the thousands. The migration happens annually, although the winter rainfall has created the right scenario for this rare population boom. Some experts have estimated that up to 1 billion butterflies could be making the journey up north where females will lay their eggs before the end of their life span. But not all butterfly species are as happy as the painted lady—by contrast, the western monarch is on a steep decline.

Western Monarch photographed at Plaza Del Arroyo, Escondido

The Xerces Society reported only 28,429 monarch butterflies along the Pacific coast, which is an 86% drop from the previous count done. This number is just below the number needed to keep the population stable. The counts occur at the same sites every Thanksgiving and have shown a 99.4% drop from the numbers recorded in the 1980s. One way you can help is by planting the native narrow-leaf milkweed in your home garden. Mixing it in with other native plants can help create habitat for multiple pollinator species. The Escondido Creek Conservancy has recently helped create several pollinator gardens in local schools and parks, with another larger garden in the works at California State University – San Marcos. In conjunction with our partners at the San Diego Pollinator Alliance, we hope to do our part to re-establish a stable migration route for the western monarch.

Visit the Xerces Society website to find out how you can help, or reach out to us if you’d like to be involved in local projects! And if you haven’t already, get outside and enjoy the rare sight of the painted lady migration—although don’t be surprised if you can’t get a clear photo, as they can travel up to 25 mph!