In the Wild With Jackie: The Painted Ladies Are Here

Editor's note: This is the first monthly column by the newest addition to our columnist lineup. Jackie Johansen's "In the Wild With Jackie" column will focus on wildlife found in the Menifee area.

By Jackie Johansen

If you have been out for a walk lately, or even had to clean your windshield, you have likely encountered lots of butterflies!

While winter didn’t really come to Menifee this year, spring is definitely here. Among the blossoms you will likely find lots of Painted Ladies, a delightful orange and black butterfly.

Painted ladies start out as an egg, usually on the underside of leaves. In their larval stage, they look like tiny ants, and eventually grow to the size of a 1 ½ inches. After four molts, and forming a chrysalis, this butterfly is ready to emerge.

But be warned: Just before hatching, the chrysalis can move wildly. This jiggling motion might make you jump, just like it is supposed to. The motion is meant to scare predators away from this otherwise tasty snack.

You are likely in for a good laugh if you watch a child try to catch one of these. The painted lady doesn’t fly very straight. In fact, their flying behavior has been described as a “cork screw.”

This beautiful butterfly is a helpful pollinator to our area, and is likely benefitting your garden, because it mostly feeds on weeds, like thistle. It also has a migration route from California to Mexico in some years.

Many scientists have hypothesized that their migration pattern is tied to El Nino weather patterns, when the deserts have more water and flowers. During this “irruptive migration,” an irregular migration that isn’t tied to any known environmental cues, this butterfly can travel up to 100 miles per day, and has been clocked at speeds of 30 miles per hour. This helps explain the windshield mess!

The painted lady is the most widely dispersed butterfly on the planet, and are most often found in Riverside County from July to October. It is a popular choice for science projects, and for home-hatching fun! Next time you see this little lady, take note. She won’t be around long!

What animals or plants have piqued your curiosity in Menifee lately?

Jackie Johansen loves everything outdoors and spending time with her husband and kids. She teaches high school biology for Julian Charter School and holds degrees in zoology, conservation biology, education, and technology. Her "In the Wild" column will appear here once a month.