October 19, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Monarch Deposed by Painted Lady

Painted lady butterflies make an even more spectacular migration than the famous Monarchs, observers just found.

The Monarch butterfly travels about 6,000 miles round trip in its migration from Canada to Mexico.  That record has been bested by painted ladies, which fly 9,000 miles, it has just been discovered.  This amazing feat was just reported today on the BBC News and Science Now.  Richard Fox, the survey manager of Butterfly Conservation said,

“This tiny creature weighing less than a gram, with a brain the size of a pin head, and no opportunity to learn from older, experienced individuals, undertake [sic] an epic intercontinental migration.”

Why wasn’t this discovered before now?  Brits thought the colorful insects just died off at the end of summer.  It turns out, rather, that they land in the British Isles as a feeding stop on their intercontinental migration from tropical Africa to the edge of the Arctic Circle and back.  While in the UK, they increase their numbers till they leave in two waves, one in August and one in October.  They were not seen migrating because they fly super-high: average 500 meters, but as high as 1,000 meters.  It took radar to spot them.

Thousands of participants took part in solving the mystery of where they went.  As with Monarchs, it takes up to six generations of butterflies to complete the annual trip.   With favorable winds they can fly 30 miles per hour.

Painted ladies with their bright orange-dappled wings have been appreciated casually for millennia, but only now have their epic migrations been recognized.  One of the authors of the paper said, “So we’ve kind of got this amazing creature right under our noses without really realising.”

This discovery suggests that more incredible stories are still out there.  Here it is, 2012, and we are just finding out this amazing migration story.  Congratulations to all those who took part; everyone who loves natural wonders should be very pleased.  Will more epic migrations be found in Russia, China, or other parts of the world?  It would be surprising if Monarchs and Painted Ladies are the only species that travel this far.

A new 3-D IMAX film about Monarchs is out this month, Flight of the Butterflies.  Interesting observation: There’s a quote on the home page, “Evolution is written on the wings of butterflies.”  A couple of weeks ago, Charles Darwin was listed as the source.  Today, his name has been scrubbed, but the quote is still there.  Wonder what happened; was there a complaint? Is Darwin’s name too controversial?

If you want a documentary that takes on the assumption of evolution, be sure to watch Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies from Illustra Media (available in DVD and Blu-Ray with surround sound).  The film masterfully shows many species of butterflies in all their glory, with a focus on their amazing life-cycles that defy evolution, and then reveals the Monarch migration in a heart-lifting true-life adventure story.  This is a wonderful tool to share the positive case for intelligent design.  Now it looks like a sequel featuring painted ladies would be in order.


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