Natural Sightings painted lady

Painted Lady butterflies that have been migrating through the Tehachapi area in recent days.

Nancy Vukich took this photo near Old Town Road of just one of the hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Painted Lady butterflies that have been migrating through the Tehachapi area in recent days.

Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) reproduce in Mexico each winter and early spring, and then the adults stream north in a river of butterflies to repopulate the lower 48 states and Canada. Unlike the Monarch butterfly migration, the Painted Ladies only head north; other generations don't head back south in autumn.

While this is a reliable annual phenomenon, the numbers can vary widely. This year there was ample rainfall in the Mexican desert where these butterflies begin life, and so there was lots of available vegetation and a big, abundant hatching of Painted Ladies that made it to adulthood.

As a result, many millions of these butterflies have been streaming north through California to reach spring and summer foraging areas. There has been more than usual this year, but still not as many as 2005, when entomologists estimate that more than one billion Painted Ladies migrated through California.

These attractive little butterflies tend to fly close to the ground, which results in a distressing number of casualties due to collisions with cars. This bounty doesn't get wasted, though — most songbirds feed insects to their nestlings, and you can see parent birds darting onto roadways to seize butterflies laid low by cars. Unfortunately, some of these devoted bird parents also fall victim to cars as they glean butterfly carnage amid the traffic.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for butterfly is ayaataniizi, pronounced aye-ya-tah-NEE-zi.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.