#NATUREALERT: A Massive Migration of Butterflies is Coming Through Northern California and Oregon

As if this upcoming spring’s Super Bloom wasn’t enough, California’s also in the midst of another extraordinary, incredibly rare natural phenomenon: a mass Butterfly migration. They’ve already made their mark in Southern California, blanketing green spaces around Los Angeles and San Diego, and they’ll soon be flying-up toward our neck of the woods in Northern California.

A Rare Aerial Affair

For the first time in nearly fifteen years, hundreds of thousands of painted butterflies, arguably the most widespread butterfly species in the world, are traveling up from the Mojave Desert on their way to Oregon—and treating the West Coast to an au naturale display of airborne beauty.

“In 2005, we had a similar outbreak,” said Arthur Shapiro, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, to the LA Times about the event. “They arrived here on March 11th. I thought it would have been great fun if they arrived here on March 11th again, but they didn’t. They should, in theory, get here this week.”

Photo by Rachel Petri, at Carrizo Plain.

“Painted ladies,” as they’re commonly known as, experienced a population boom this year. Like the heavy rains that triggered this pending Superbloom, the same fruitful conditions, too, increased the survival rates of these insects…thus, leading to their crowded en-route odyssey to Oregon.

This fast-moving swarm of budding butterflies is fluttering around 25 mph (really!) due north, hugging alongside the Central Valley (and Pacific coastline). Shapiro believes they’ll find themselves in the Bay Area, any day now.

“When they arrive,” Shapiro adds.  “[They] might flutter over to the Bay Area, but I expect them to go through the Central Valley, following 1-5 to Oregon.”

They Come in Peace

Don’t fret: The passing butterflies won’t be anything like the dystopian locust swarms we synonymize with huge insect voyages. If anything, the coming deluge of painted ladies is a good indicator that environmental conditions around the state are improving. (Much how like hellbender salamander numbers give us insights on the health of the waterways they call home, butterfly populations show us how our green spaces are doing…above the waterline.)

“I like to think of them as being like the plagues of locust that used to be around the world, except they eat plants we don’t care about,” says Brian Brown, the entomology curator at the Natural Museum of History in Los Angeles, in conversation with SFGate. “They’re looking for what we consider weeds, and as they feed, they build up big populations.”

So, the trade is less garden-variety weeds for more beguiling butterflies? Sounds good to us.

Where to See Them…IRL

Photo by Daniela Nomura

Admittedly, Instagram will, surely, be aflutter with edited snaps of these winged insects. (Even Taylor Swift, herself, jumped on the faunal trend.) However, we’re obviously proponents of getting you outside to see good ol’ Mother Nature in all her splendor.

Here’s where you can see these gaggles of painted butterflies when they come through Northern California:

Photo by Madison Kotack, at Tomales Bay.

Side note: Worldwide, insect populations are on the decline; butterflies and bees are, sadly, among the most affected pint-sized beings. When you go about your treks to see these wonderful winged gems, practice the principles of Leave It Better, helping to preserve the spaces they call home. Also, think about partaking in every day and at-home “bug-positive” practices like forgoing synthetic fertilizers, planting diverse gardens, driving less, and more.

For more floral hot spots in California, in and out of the Bay Area, that’ll surely be attracting legions of these butterflies, peruse our recent put together guide to California’s 2019 Superbloom.

5 Hipcamps near the Butterfly Migration

Once you’re done appreciating— and let’s be honest, Instagramming—these bundles of butterflies, consider checking out some of our favorite Hipcamps in Northern California:

Photo by Karen Grubb, near The Cowboy Room.

Campsites are already being booked. Stay up to date on the latest outdoor hotspots in the NorCal by following Hipcamp on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Matt Charnock

"We find ourselves, and our shared humanity, through stories." SF transplant, Starbucks gypsy. Outdoorsman by heart, barefoot by choice.

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