Sunday, 8 August 2010

Painted Ladies of the World who stop trains? .. A year later!

Amazing what epicurean delights painted ladies like to eat or breed on – cudweeds, thistles, lupins, mallow, stinging nettles and everlastings .. so they are no longer ever lasting! Butterfly migration stopped the trains in 1889. Escaping from the mountains they are as determined as prisoners to find new lands, to thrive and produce new generations before their time is up.

Painted Lady, Portugal

Painted Lady butterflies have been prolific here in England this year – we were alerted to be on the lookout for the first waves in late April or early May .. a flock, a wave, a congregation – call it what you will .. travelled to this part of the south coast where William the Conqueror of 1066 fame landed at Pevensey, before he waged war on Harold and took control of England, changing the course of western history.
These wonderful stained-glass flutterers, just one of the many, many varieties of the lepidopterous order of insects, which have four scale-covered wings, are found on all the continents except Antarctica.
Our English ones come up from the Atlas mountains in Morocco, flying over the Mediterranean and English Channel, on northwards to the Scottish islands and some on to Iceland. How do they do it, why do they do it?

Carduus crispus, (Papilio cardui Linnaeus, 1758) Common Thistle

We have the first wave in Spring, which lay their eggs on the common thistle, asters, borage, forget-me-not, hollyhocks, the legume family flowers to name a few. The caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants of the daisy family, especially Carduus crispus, (Papilio cardui Linnaeus, 1758) as implied by the species name cardui – Latin for “of the thistle” ; while the adults drink nectar from a variety of wildflowers, more commonly the favoured thistle, buddleia (butterfly bush), asters, tickseed sunflowers and zinnias.

This first wave are about to hatch from their chrysalides in the pupal stage of butterflies. The term is derived from the metallic-gold-colouration found in the pupae of many butterflies referred to by the Greek term (chrysos) for gold. Interestingly, as we are most familiar with this type of pupae, most chrysalides are attached to a surface by a Velcro-like arrangement, spun by the caterpillars, of a silken pad and a set of hooks.

Australia: Winged Everlasting (Ammobium alatum) with a skipper butterfly on it

Australian Painted Ladies are mostly confined to Australia, but have been wind-swept to the islands to the east, including New Zealand. During spring adult butterflies migrate south in large numbers from Queensland and New South Wales, surprisingly in 1889 this migration was so large that trains were unable to generate sufficient traction because of the large numbers of painted ladies resting on the tracks. The perennial Ammobium Alatum (Winged Everlasting) is an important food-plant for the Australian caterpillars.

American Painted Ladies live in flowery habitats, usually in the mountains, but are also found in Madeira, the Canary Islands and occasionally in southern Europe, their larvae feeding on the daisy family, especially the cudweeds (Gnaphalium), which have several common names, including ladies' tobacco, California rabbit tobacco, California cudweed, and California everlasting.

Gnaphalium californicum - California everlasting

There’s also a West Coast Lady, which is one of three North American species of brush-footed butterflies, known colloquially as the “painted ladies”. This particular butterfly occurs throughout much of the western United States and south western Canada.

Brush-footed West Coast Lady

Painted Lady Butterflies, as you would expect, need to rest as they go on their migration route, and not wanting to miss a trick .. they breed on the march. The eggs take three to five days to hatch, while the caterpillar takes seven to eleven days to turn into a chrysalis, and then another seven to eleven days to become a butterfly, four to six days after emerging it is old enough to mate, and then the cycle starts all over again.

Life cycle of the Painted Lady – by Mohsen Arooni, Iran via Wikipedia

They live between 30 and 40 days, because after about three weeks they are tired and tattered .. a fully fulfilled life cycle, however butterflies are early barometers of habitat change occurring within a year.

Migrating such distances, 1,000 to 1,700 miles .. they’ve been found on off-shore oil rigs, which are about 100 miles from the coast of Scotland .. they don’t tend to stay in one area long, breeding as they go – thousands of caterpillars were seen hanging from hedgerows and forming ‘curtains’ on the Iberian peninsula.

However they are incapable of surviving our winter, as they do not hibernate like our English native butterflies, why do they come, where do they go, how do they get back? Do they do the reverse trip, called by their ancestral roots – does anyone know?! We’re about to get a billion short-lived baby boomers .. can we track their journey home .. will the Atlas mountains welcome them back .. perhaps our internet savvy generations can tell us the last call of the wild for these Painted Ladies?

A year on - 2010 - and I still do not know the answer! Life has been somewhat busy ..

Dear Mr Postman .. my poor Ma has been in hospital for two visits .. one lasting two weeks and only came back to the Nursing Centre yesterday, having had an operation; then last night the room flooded .. so she's been moved to another room - no posters, too much light .. and generally not allowing her to rest .. I'm sure she'll be ok - she's pretty strong .. me too .. I've also moved house - so life has been 'real fun'!?! I am standing - just! Hence no posting .. this is one I prepared last year .. and as I only had one comment .. I think I can safely presume to repost?! Enjoy your summer holidays and time out .. life is fun here ...?!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Mason Canyon said...

Butterflies are so beautiful and amazing. Love the photos. I am in awe of their travels for such tiny creatures. Seeing these photos reminds me quite a few years ago I went out one day to find one of my herbs covered in worms. I quickly got a glass of soapy water and drop every worm in the water. This was my first herb garden and I was determined to see it grow. Two days later I got a new magazine in the the mail. There were those worms on the cover. I had killed 30 or so Monarch butterflies. From then on, the herbs were on their on.

Paul C said...

I like your image of the wonderful 'stained-glass flutterers.' They are particularly active around our butterfly bushes this year too. Enjoyed this post of our winged guests which provide summer serendipity.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mason .. thank you - aren't they? there were loads in the Nursing Centre today ..

Oh oh ... you learnt & that's the main thing - never to be repeated!

Monarch's are really pretty .. and I thought about 'doing' butterflies as a whole last year - but realised that the enormity of the situation was rather more than I felt I could handle - though I've a few articles lurking in the back ground - which are now packed!

Oh well .. so now Monarchs are allowed to live in the States! and herbs live on - probably one of the longest surviving species!

Thanks Mason - great to see you .. have a good week ahead .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul .. thanks - and aren't they just at the moment fluttering around the butterfly bushes ..

The purple buddleia, over here in the UK, is very prolific at the moment .. encouraging more flutterbyes in ..

Glad you enjoyed the post - good to see you - Hilary

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I wondered where you were. So, sorry about your dear mama. Hopefully things will even out soon.

Ahh butterflies. I love them. And, yes they DO look like stain glass. How can one little creature be so incredible?

Great post.

Mandy Allen said...

Hi Hilary, sorry to hear about your mum. My mum was rushed back in as they thought the hip was broken again, but it wasn't which is good news. She's now walking a few steps and I hope for a speedy return home. I love this post, didn't read it last time round so I wouldn't have known it was a repeat! There was a recent butterfly survey I believe. Glad you have found a new home!

Enjoy the journey.


Theresa Milstein said...

Beautiful pictures. Butterflies are such lovely and delicate creatures.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

We have painted ladies here in California, too. My grandson showed one to me. That's how I found out.

Anonymous said...

I did not know butterflies live for only a month or so. I can see how their fragile bodies could become tattered as they fly all those miles. I like butterflies and feel like when one lands on me good things are about to happen.

Stephen Tremp

Karen Lange said...

Butterflies are amazing and so beautiful! Thank you for this info; I appreciate it:)
Blessings for your week,

Patricia said...

Oh I just love butterflies and their stories - migrating ones are so interesting - there is a desert butterfly here that does not migrate but only emerges about every 2 or 3 years and people come from all over to see the butterfly bloom...

I need to look that up.

I bet you are exhausted from moving and your mum in hospital....I am thinking about you and hope things will relax a wee bit and let all the feelings and tired bones re-coop

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Theresa .. well my Mama and moving out of the house .. all take its toll - & me too! Hope things turn the other way soon .. still could be a lot worse!

Butterflies are beautiful aren’t they .. and their colourations are so beautiful .. Life is wonderful in all its glory ..

Thanks for the thoughts .. but I’m around and back I hope! Getting sorted slowly .. and glad you enjoyed the post – have a good week .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mandy .. thank you – I’d guessed something had happened with you too –but with all my chaos down here .. I just never got to email and check. Very glad to hear your mother is making such great progress –long may it continue and you get her home soon.

You’re right the survey was a couple of months ago .. and I did a post on it – but haven’t followed up .. also a moth survey .. just so much a girl can do – chasing butterflies and moths at the moment is not one of them!

I do hope all goes well this week with your Mama .. and we’re both a little more settled – I’m staying with some friends pro tem .. look after yourselves – and with thoughts & a hug – Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Theresa .. – thanks re the pictures .. Wikipedia does help enormously! I’ve seen some butterflies recently as they flit around the lavender, buddleia and other plants – so gorgeous to look at .. – lovely to see you .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Elizabeth – great to meet you and thanks for stopping by and commenting. I can imagine that little picture ... GrandMa .. come, come .. see what I’ve found .. and then that research to find out a little more to show them some more things .. love it – wonderful your grandson is ‘teaching’ you! .. enjoy your times together ... Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Stephen .. I agree I was surprised .. I thought maybe they lived a few days only – but obviously (of course – if my brain was in gear!) can’t travel from Africa to here in a few days. Butterflies and magic go together I feel – that light delicate touch of a hidden life – beautiful.

Have a good week with all your book promotions etc .. great hearing about it all over at your blog – Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Karen – thank you .. they’re always good to see .. so light and delicate – we forget their survival instincts and hidden strengths beneath the beauty. Glad you enjoyed it – you too have a lovely summer’s day and week ahead .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. yes that butterfly kiss .. I guess you gave your children those? The eyelash touch against their soft cheek .. they are wonderful sights to behold & will have many many stories to tell.

Your desert butterfly – creatures and plants are amazing how they adapt to conditions .. appearing at just the right time .. South Africa has its spring flower bloom in the desert - & I guess the butterfly bloom must be similar – I saw one on Rhodes (Greece) many years ago – a whole valley comes alive with vibrating, fluttering bodies – a wonder to behold.

Thanks for your thoughts .. I am somewhat tired .. to put it mildly . but needs must - all will resolve itself .. at least its summer and not cold frosty freezing days!

Hope all’s well with you and you’re still improving & enjoying the summer days - & beating the beet?! Happy times ahead and a hug from here - Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

I just can't imagine butterflies migrating so far ... they seem so fragile and they don't seem like very strong flyers :)

Mark said...

Thanks for sharing the photos and education on butterflies. They are a magnificent creature and serve as a great metaphor of our journey.

Talli Roland said...

Beautiful! Thank you for the photos and the information. There's something so delicate and graceful about butterflies.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. it does seem extraordinary the lengths they travel – their ancestral routes – those wings relative to their bodies must be enormously strong – but I need a botanist or engineer to explain this to me!! Or perhaps even better a " Lepidopterologist" ...

Good to see you .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark – thanks – just glad you enjoyed see the post and the little bit of information on these wonderful fluttering creatures. They are certainly varied & offer characteristics we could easily learn from .. strength of mind – in their undaunted quest to reach their destination .. etc

Great to see you – have a good week .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Talli – thanks for coming by – after your across London bike ride at the weekend .. I expect a few butterflies accompanied you .. especially in Hyde Park? Glad you enjoyed the photos and info – exactly as you say .. ‘so delicate and graceful’

Have a good writing week .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

Hilary, thanks for sharing such beautiful photos and interesting information about butterflies. They are truly some of God's most beautiful creations.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ron .. how right you are - they are some of our most beautiful creations.

Thanks for coming by - after your wonderful camping trip with the family .. your grandchildren no doubt are mesmerised by flutterbies? as young kids will be ..

Great to see you - enjoy the rest of the summer .. Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Many people forget that flowers and natural plants are often edible and nutritious. Amazing how society brainwashes people into buying and consuming certain foods when mother nature offers a plethora of choices.

Butterflies symbolize transformation and remind each of us change is constant and also revitalizing.

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary, you are a trooper to post with all that going on. You are a migrating butterfly yourself?!
They do not live long do they, only 40 days at the most and they spend those days traveling a lot obviously. Busy creatures, aren't they? Interesting.
Much love to you and your MA, her room flooded, of all things?! Yes, life is fun if you keep your head together as you obviously do. xox Wilma

Davina said...

Life is interesting sometimes, isn't it? You and your mother are doing some of your own migrating :) I trust that things will settle for you both. Just take it easy on yourself.

Butterflies are the most beautiful and delicate creatures and to migrate such long distances; nature amazes me and there's no end to what we can learn from it; especially from your posts, Hilary.

My sisters and I used to like to try and catch butterflies and moths when we were little. Our fingers would be dusted with silvery dust from their wings. Mom would tell us that they wouldn't be able to fly if too much of that power was rubbed off their wings.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thank you - as you say .. so many plants and flowers can be used in so many ways – herbal and healthy and as vegetables – all of which insects propagate for us .. so we have this wonderful nutritious varied diet – as do the butterflies that visit the plants in the hedgerows and fields of our lands. Variety is the spice of life – as you say.

Butterflies offer so much and your comment on symbolism and transformation brings that change so down to earth .. as it allows us to revitalise.

Many thanks for the visit – and your very salient comment .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. well this one was just ‘one I prepared earlier’ a year ago .. I hope I live longer than a migrating butterfly! .. and as you rightly say they have one life and intend to live it to the full .. no time for time off – on the other hand they recoup their batteries along the way .. much as we need to do.

I know poor Ma .. now she’s lost her hearing again .. and who has to resort everything – me! So no rest for the wicked .. I just get on with it as best I can .. but lack of communication is very difficult once again ..

Great to see you – thanks for the support .. much appreciated .. xoxo Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. good to see you .. do you know – it would be good to be settled for a while .. I’ve just about had it!! Moving and I do not agree – at the moment! Thanks for the thought re me – I do what I can with the boundaries of needing to do a great deal, without any support – that would be helpful!

Just so glad you enjoy the information and the pictures .. and that you learn a little from visiting here – without the stress of having to learn or having it drummed into you!

Lovely story to remember of your sisters and you darting about catching butterflies and moths and that silver dust that came off .. so easy to ‘harm’ them .. I’m sure your Mom was right .. good memories of her too ..

Thanks – have a good day tomorrow ... Hilary

Anonymous said...

Hi Hilary. I found your blog post about the Painted Lady butterflies very interesting. As I was reading your blog post, I kept picturing ideas for a children's book. I'll have to get these ideas down on paper before I lose them to that place where I'm always losing ideas I don't get written down. I'm sure it's the same place my forgotten dreams keep going to.

Have a great week!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susanne – that’s excellent & I hope you’ve managed to jot them down somewhere safely. I want to use Evernote – but can’t seem to fathom my way round it easily .. it must be easy & I must just be having a bad hair day or something!!! I have little hair .. but obviously the brain isn’t working in Evernote’s way of thinking! (Good for pictures from the iphone) Then I heard about another App – on iphone (they’re also normal tools as such) (for text) .. perhaps only an App – I don’t know ..

However onto butterflies .. if I’ve inspired some useful thoughts for a childrens’ book of the future .. that’s wonderful! Delighted to hear it ..

Forgotten dreams – now that’s another subject .. You too have a happy week with some new material .. thanks so much – and good to see you - Hilary

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope things go better for your mother soon, Hilary. And as for butterflies, I think they are amazing creatures. I have to admit that my preference is for moths though. There's something about their understated beauty that appeals to me... ;)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tony .. thank you – we just need to make her as comfortable and as less stressed as possible! So I’ll need to move the posters etc and make her room ‘hers’ again.

I’ve done a couple of posts on moths .. one was the bird cherry ermine moth = wonderful name! Their colouring is certainly so subtle, while there’s an amazing range of colours .. shades is probably a better word.

Great to see you – have a good week .. Hilary

Jannie Funster said...

"Ooo -wee feeling fine, Mama.
Painted ladies, and a bottle of wine, Mama."

Reminds me of that song. By April Wine, I think it was.

Oh no -- a flood now in the nursing home! What will go on next?

Hope your mom continues to recover.

Loved this garden jaunt, Dearest Hilary. Back home the thistles are always sharp on bare feet -- ouch.

BB sends "mutch love." I have him photocopying my new song lyrics today.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie & BB .. we too would be feeling fine with a bottle of wine – but none available! Mi’ thought April Wine was a woman .. but no .. they’re a group of guys from Newfoundland – your neck of the woods .. no wonder you know them! But they’ve been around a while – as long as me!

I know – the flooded room – oh well .. we can’t decide what to do next .. stay or move back – but the room is still wet .. and upstairs is almost ready to go into ..

Mum can’t hear again .. so we’re back to the basics .. actually she’s reading a few words now .. and demands to know why I can’t speak loudly .. and asks if I can hear me = yes, I say!! So we’re back to signing of some description.

Good old BB .. he’s a good old carrot stick – knows he needs to nurture his mistress! That’s great that the lyrics are done, perhaps to be dusted over a little, then sung out loud .. – we await to hear .. I’ll show Mum sometime!

Wonderful to see you – thanks for taking time out to visit our butterfly garden post .. with thoughts for the singing songs time .. xoxox Hilree & yellow jelly Hardwick! As Mum now calls him after seeing him in hospital through the yellow blinds – giving him lighter shade of yellow jelly!!!!!!

Sara said...


Yes, I think you safety put this one back up:~) As I write this comment, you've had many visitors. This goes to show that 1) we missed you and 2) you continue to teach us:~)

I had never heard of "painted ladies" as a term for butterflies. I love it. I also love how England seems to be so aware of things like butterfly "flocks?" arriving and then notify people to be careful. Other countries, like mine, could learn a few lessons about this.

I hope your mom recovers quickly from her surgery and her move.

Remember to take good care of yourself as well...okay?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. thank you .. I guessed I could! I am lucky with all the visiting commenters – everyone is just great and I’m so grateful for all the comments and thoughts .. life hasn’t been easy – but I need to get through somehow & manage to!

I’m not sure if I made the term up .. or picked it up somewhere! I suppose because we are a small island and can keep an eye on all things natural coming and going – showing us that particular year’s timings for the lifecycle of life. Your country is vast .. but certainly there are surveys done .. I recently heard of one in Canada (not for butterflies) .. also our records probably go back centuries now ..

Mum seems to be fine from the surgery .. so thank you .. but I’d love her to be able to hear again .. it comes and goes .. I write on the white board and she can read a few words now .. and we sort of sign – well I do .... Mum just cannot understand why I can’t speak up!!!!

Thanks for the thoughts .. I’m doing what I can .. which is about all I can do for now ... great to see you – enjoy your pink flowers! Cheers Hilary

Arlee Bird said...

I used to see a lot of butterflies when I lived in East Tennessee, but here in the urban part of California where I am I don't seem to see as many. Maybe they avoid my area or maybe I'm just not outside enough. Interesting thoughts to think about.

Tossing It Out

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Arlee . that's an interesting thought .. we have a lot of open spaces in London - left overs of the Royal Parks in Tudor times etc - and the underground tracks that run overground are bounded with buddleia (butterfly) bushes ..

We need less concrete and less tidiness .. for our insects to thrive and pollinate our plants ..

I hope you can get out and enjoy the summer sunshine a little more even from your urban California - thanks for the visit - good to see you - Hilary

Will Burke said...

aqmazing that such small, delicate creatures travel farther in a year than I do! No wonder poets keep talking about them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Will .. thanks - I expect in fact they travel further than most of us in a year .. though so many of us wouldn't think about it! That creatures just happily traverse the Oceans or the skies .. that homing instinct is pretty incredible.

Your knowledge of literature is much greater than mine - and there must be many poems out there or works referring to butterflies, or for that matter works of art depicting their beauty.

Have a great weekend - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Vegetarians often underestimate the diversity of options available!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thanks for being here - vegetarians have so much available to eat than is often realised by most of the population .. also they will get a better variety of nutrients .. a better mix all round - thanks for highlighting this for us ..

Enjoy the approach of spring and summer .. Hilary