Colorful butterflies arrive in northern Nevada |

Colorful butterflies arrive in northern Nevada

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Painted Lady butterflies are fluttering through western Nevada in what biologists believe to be the largest local migration of the colorful insect in close to a decade.

”This is really a full-fledged explosion,” said Dennis Murphy, a biologist and butterfly expert at University of Nevada, Reno.

”This butterfly is always around, but it’s not around in these numbers. This is a highly irregular circumstance.”

Just how many of the butterflies will pass through the region is uncertain, Murphy said. The migration could taper off soon or continue for several more days or even weeks, in which case hundreds of millions of butterflies fly into the Reno area, Lake Tahoe, Douglas County and Carson City.

The phenomenon is tied to heavy rains experienced in the deserts of the Southwest and northern Mexico in February and March, Murphy said. The moisture caused desert vegetation to bloom and flourish, resulting in a corresponding population explosion of butterflies.

Butterfly larvae strip much of the desert vegetation, leaving little food for the next generation of adult insects. The result is a massive migration of butterflies heading north in search of food for their own offspring.

Bob Moore, owner of Northern Nevada Nursery in Minden, first noticed a ”real explosion of the painted ladies” a couple of days ago.

”My whole family started saying, ‘My God, where are all these butterflies coming from?”’ Moore said. ”It’s a harbinger of spring, I hope.”

Murphy saw the butterflies ”in waves” during a drive Wednesday between his Galena-area home through Carson City to Lake Tahoe. He was particularly surprised at the large numbers of butterflies he saw above the 7,000-foot level near Spooner Summit.

”No sensible butterfly flies at 7,500 feet elevation into headwinds with temperatures in the forties,” Murphy said.

Stormy weather expected this week will likely drive many butterflies seen around Lake Tahoe Wednesday into lower elevations, the biologist said.

Wherever they go, the butterflies are probably headed for trouble. Northern Nevada’s growing season is just beginning and the insects are unlikely to find many flowering plants they need for life-sustaining nectar.

”They’re headed into country that is not very friendly to them,” Murphy said. ”Unfortunately, few will survive and fewer less will produce offspring. A lot of them will just drop exhausted from the sky.”

AP-WS-04-19-01 1152EDT

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.