Following a wet winter, flocks of visitors head to California to experience the stunningly beautiful phenomenon known as a super bloom. But this year, wildflower lovers are in for an unexpected treat: The super bloom has spread to the sky. An estimated one billion painted lady butterflies are flitting from flower to flower, migrating north in dense groups full of fluttering wings.
“Visitors should definitely come to the Coachella Valley for the super bloom, but also for the continued painted lady butterfly bonanza!” says Dr. James Danoff-Burg, Director of Conservation at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert.
Painted Ladies, Danoff-Burg explains, are the most widely distributed butterflies in the world with homes as far-flung as Europe and North Africa. These delicate little orange and black insects, often confused for similarly-colored monarchs, are native to California too. Because they don’t do well in temperatures below freezing, the Ladies typically winter along the Mexico border and make their way north each spring.
This year’s California migration, however, is exceptional thanks to four years of dry winters followed by heavy rainfall over the past few months. “When there is a lot of rain, those areas green up quickly and there is a lot of food available for larvae to feed on,” Danoff-Burg says. More food means a higher survival rate from larvae to butterfly which leads to swarms of painted ladies reaching an incredible density before moving north. “We’re seeing loads of butterflies,” says Danoff-Burg, “hundreds per minute.”
Across Southern California, the painted ladies are already delighting locals and visitors alike. Over the coming months, the swarms will continue to travel north both inland and along the coast. Danoff-Burg expects them to travel all the way up through Northern California.
The best way to see these beauties? Make like a butterfly and follow the nectar. If you’re traveling over the next few weeks, head to a super bloom hotspot in Southern California. If you’re planning a trip later this spring, use this comprehensive calendar of floral activity.
Danoff-Burg says visitors should delight in the whimsical beauty of these ephemeral creatures while treating them with care: “We’ve seen flows of butterflies so miraculous I almost can’t drive my car.” In these instances, pull over or slow down to take in nature’s beauty. He urges, “Pay attention to the lovely things flying across the road.”