Outdoors Blog

Hundreds of butterflies flitted through Boise this weekend. Where are they headed?

This weekend, Boiseans found themselves in the middle of a massive migration as hundreds of orange-and-brown butterflies known as painted ladies winged their way through the area.

Dozens of people on social media shared accounts of seeing the butterflies flying overhead en masse or stopping to snack on spring blooms. Many of the painted lady butterflies, which are often mistaken for monarchs because of their orange coloring, were spotted in the North End and Foothills on Saturday.

“I live near Hulls Gulch and there is a constant stream of butterflies heading north across my yard right now,” Sherri Lechten wrote on a post about the painted ladies in the North End Facebook group.

“My neighbor came over and pulled me out to see thousands coming right down our street,” said Steve Anderson on another North End post.

Other commenters reported seeing them near Downtown Boise, along Hill Road, at the Simplot Sports Complex and in Garden City. And they all seemed to be on a mission.

Boisean Michelle Nordin-Mills shared this photo of a painted lady butterfly that landed in her yard. Hundreds of the butterflies migrated through the Boise area on Saturday, May 18. Michelle Nordin-Mills

“In a period of 2 minutes I counted 56 flying northwest through my yard,” wrote Boisean Colleen Fellows on Twitter. “They’re loving the chive blossoms.”

Several other Idahoans said they saw the butterflies heading north or northwest. According to the New York Times, the butterflies start their journey in Mexico or Southern California during cold months. As the weather warms, they head toward the Pacific Northwest.

It’s the same route they usually follow, the Times reports, but thanks to a wet winter and the following superbloom of flowers (aka butterfly food) in California, the painted ladies saw a big bump in numbers.

Earlier in the month, the bugs flew through Utah. Entomologists told the Salt Lake Tribune that a migration of this size — possibly in the millions of insects — is rare.

The swarms of butterflies, also called a “kaleidoscope,” could continue to travel through the area for weeks, the Tribune reported.

According to the LA Times, the boom in the painted ladies’ population comes at a time when many other butterfly species, like monarchs, are struggling due to climate change and development that wipes out their food sources.

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