'Millions' of Painted Lady butterflies set to arrive in the UK this summer

Lizzie Roberts
Painted Lady butterflies migrate from tropical Africa to the Article Circle every year. - AFP

The UK could experience a once-in-a-decade influx of millions of Painted Lady butterflies this summer, after large arrivals of the nomad insect have already been spotted on the south coast.

The distinctive butterfly, known for its orange and black wings, is a long-distance migrant which embarks on a 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year.

But this summer could be a “Painted Lady Summer” in which millions arrive in the UK to breed while on their migration north. 

The last great influx of the species was in 2009, when 11 million were recorded at the beginning of the summer. 

Dr Richard Fox, a butterfly conservationist, told The Telegraph “big arrivals” have already been recorded on the east and south coast of England in June.

Painted Lady butterflies could arrive to UK shores in a "once-in-a-decade" phenomenon. Credit: Butterfly Conservation/PA

“There were two to three hundred Painted Ladies recorded in one small area in a single day,” he said. 

Conservationists are hopeful similar numbers to the 2009 influx will be recorded this year, and are calling on the public to participate in the Big Butterfly Count, organised by the charity Butterfly Conservation, to help record the event.

One reason for this year’s mass arrival could be related to favourable breeding conditions along their migration route, Dr Fox said. 

He added: “Weather conditions further south, either in southern Europe or in Africa have dictated how successful the previous generation was.

“There were huge numbers reported in the eastern Mediterranean, on islands like Cyprus and on some of the Greek islands like Rhodes.

“I think that probably the conditions were really good for breeding in the eastern parts of North Africa.”

So far this year, sightings of the Painted Lady have been recorded as far north as Shetland and even on the island of St. Kilda which has no native butterflies, Dr Fox said.