Painted Butterfly migration in Cyprus

29 March 2019

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Last week we witnessed a mass migration of Painted Lady butterflies in Cyprus. This species of butterfly (Vanessa cardui) is one of the most known migratory butterfly species in Europe. The butterflies were coming from Israel in large numbers and flying north-west out to sea towards Turkey and Greece.

This migration occurs every year in Cyprus, but this year, due to the rainy winter in West Asia, the conditions for the growth of the host plants of this species were such that enable the survival of the caterpillars and significantly boosted the population of the species, thus giving us this beautiful phenomenon seen through the Cypriot sky.

Vanessa cardui migration activity started on the 21st March with few reports from island residents and peaked on the 22st March with numerous reports that came from all over Cyprus most of them referring to have seen thousands and thousands of Vanessa cardui flying to a north, northwest direction. The presence of Vanessa cardui all over the island indicates an island-wide migration of the species involving millions of individuals. In Nicosia, the migrants were seen flying in streams, passing at a rate of 10 specimens per minute per 20 m zone. Another significant migration of this species was documented back in 2001 were mass movement of Vanessa cardui was estimated at 48 million individuals. Vanessa cardui migration will continue for 10-15 days with much lower numbers.

The Painted Lady Vanessa cardui migrates every year from North Africa/West Asia, breeding throughout the summer always spreading northwards to Europe. The northward migration starts early in the spring (March-April) where it usually arrives in the UK by late May and the southward migration start late autumn where it returns back (October-November).

Vanessa cardui occurs in Cyprus throughout the year and can be seen in various habitat types, such as shrubs, crops, forests, meadows, river valleys from sea level to the top of Troodos Mountains. It has various host-plants like thistle and wild mallow were the species lay their eggs but also many feeding flowers like Glebionis coronaria, Dittrichia viscosa subsp. angustifolia. The Painted Lady migrates to find host plants to lay their eggs and available nectar resources that are depleting with rising temperatures.

Some of the migrant butterflies will stay in Cyprus to complete their life cycle, while others will rest to refuel before dispersing to their next destination.

Vanessa cardui is widely spread across Europe and migrates by multiple generation each year. The individuals that are now flying to the north will not return back to Cyprus but their descendants will!

Elli Tzirkalli
Cyprus Butterfly Study Group

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