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Butterfly fans anticipate a once in a decade 'painted lady summer'

PUBLISHED: 08:10 19 July 2019 | UPDATED: 08:10 19 July 2019

Painted lady  Picture : Kevin Ling

Painted lady Picture : Kevin Ling

Archant

East Anglia could be set for a bumper summer of painted lady butterflies - a phenomenon that takes place around once a decade, according to experts.

Painted lady  Picture: Kevin LingPainted lady Picture: Kevin Ling

Unusually high numbers of the striking orange and black butterfly have been reported across Europe over the spring and early summer with large numbers crossing over into the UK.

Numerous sightings have already been reported across Suffolk this year, including one sighting of up to 200 at Felixstowe Ferry in June.

The butterfly migrates in varying numbers from northern Africa and up through the Continent to the UK each summer, where its caterpillars feed on thistles, but around once every 10 years the UK experiences a painted lady 'summer' when millions of the butterflies arrive in the British Isles en masse.

According to Kevin Ling at the Suffolk branch of the Butterfly Conservation charity, the last "significant year" for painted lady numbers was 2009 but this year the signs are good.

Painted lady caterpillar Picture: Kevin LingPainted lady caterpillar Picture: Kevin Ling

READ MORE: Will a new UK species of butterfly arrive in Suffolk first?

He said:"In a typical year painted ladies are not as common as the other well-known migrant butterfly, the red admiral, but from what I've read and seen, I would say there are as many if not slightly more painted ladies this year.

Painted lady butteflies Picture: Denise Irvine/Butterfly ConservationPainted lady butteflies Picture: Denise Irvine/Butterfly Conservation

"Painted ladies have been seen inland as well as on the coast - wherever I've gone I've seen painted ladies. A couple of weeks back we walked between Lavenham and Long Melford and saw two or three there."

As well as the on-going arrival of butterflies from abroad, good early numbers of painted ladies in the UK should help swell the population, as the eggs they have laid go through their caterpillar and chrysalis stage and emerge as new adults.

Mr Ling added: "At the moment, there's a lull. The adults who arrive from May onwards have laid their eggs but come August, in two or three weeks time, the next generation will start to appear. It could mean we'll be treated to good end of summer displays."

Painted lady Picture: Bob Eade/Butterfly ConservationPainted lady Picture: Bob Eade/Butterfly Conservation

READ MORE: Finding the valley of the butterflies in the heart of Ipswich

It is hoped the proliferation of painted ladies will encourage people to take part in the charity's annual Big Butterfly Count, which starts today and runs until August 11. Taking part in the Count is easy - find a sunny spot anywhere and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The incredible journey of the painted lady

The journey made by the painted lady before it arrives in the UK is truly a natural wonder.

The orange-brown butterfly starts life in the Sahara and Morocco before heading north in search of food stocks, eventually ending up in the UK, travelling beyond East Anglia as far north as Scotland. Newly-emerged painted ladies who are born in the UK then make a return journey as the summer comes to an end in the British Isles

Butterfly Conservation vice-president and wildlife broadcaster, Chris Packham said: "The painted lady migration is one of the wonders of the natural world. Travelling up to 1km in the sky and at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour these seemingly fragile creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year.

"This butterfly undertakes an extraordinary 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year - almost double the length of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America.

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