As a nature-loving person, with major interests in plants and bugs, I love going outside in the warmer months of the year to enjoy all the plant and insect life outdoors. One of my favorite things to view would be the butterflies. I love the unique coloration patterns and flying abilities of butterflies. This year there is a bit of an increase in population of one particular butterfly, the painted lady butterfly.
The painted lady butterfly is a pinkish-orange butterfly with black blotches on the wings. The forewings have a white-spotted, black tip. This butterfly has a wingspan of 2-2.25 inches. They are often confused with monarch butterflies but painted ladies are more pinkish in color, not striped, and are smaller than the monarch.
Painted lady butterflies are being seen this year in quite large numbers. Many of the callers are just curious as to why there are so many butterflies on the gravel roads or if these butterflies will do any damage to their plants. Some callers are just curious why the populations seem so large this year. These are all great questions as this year, the population is quite a bit higher than other years.
Painted ladies are one of the butterflies in the nation that migrate through Nebraska every year from the south and they do not overwinter here. This year there is an abundance of painted ladies in the south. The high population has built over many years of ideal conditions for the development of painted lady butterflies in the south. The weather has been less harsh and there is an abundance of host plants there, as well, to help increase the population. This higher population coupled with the wind currents this year have led to a very high population moving through Nebraska late this summer.
As a butterfly, the painted lady is a pollinator insect and therefore is beneficial to have around. So, the butterflies will not damage our plants they will in fact help us. However, as a caterpillar, they do feed on some of our crops. It seems there is an abundance of host plants for them this year so it looks like we could face one to two more generations of the painted lady butterflies in Nebraska this year before the frost occurs. The butterflies we are seeing now are laying eggs on different plants, including soybeans, that will emerge into caterpillars. When that happens, those caterpillars could feed on the leaves of soybeans as well as our vegetable garden crops. However, it is NOT recommended to apply pesticides to control adult painted lady butterflies, instead just watch in your fields and gardens and treat the caterpillars if necessary.
So, the abundance of these butterflies is a good thing for our pollinated plants. Remember only a couple of years ago we had a very high population of the periodical cicada, it is just another reason that nature is so unique and so enjoyable. All insects go through periods of increase and decline in their populations, it is mostly dependent on environmental conditions as well as food and host plant availability. Enjoy the butterflies while they are here, we don’t usually get to see so many all at once.