A real Monarch shows up a mimic

It’s officially fall and butterflies are haing their last dance

On bright, beautiful, calm days, a world of flying insects zoom through the atmosphere. Even during this fourth week of September, between rains, the air has been full of particularly interesting butterflies.

Beautiful big orange and black butterflies that you may be seeing, however, are most likely not Monarchs, but rather one of the most common butterflies in the world known as the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly, also termed the Cosmopolitan (meaning broadly distributed).

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But, when you see a Monarch there is no doubt, this is the king of butterflies in Manitoba. Like falling in love, you know this is it!

Swooping, with a wingspan of 8 – 12 cm, what was that, a bird? It lands and you recognize the most majestic of butterflies sipping soda from a straw – nectar, through it’s proboscis (straw-like tube extends deeply into a flower).

The distinct black veins are unmistakeable. When the butterfly is at rest, it’s delicate black body has white speckles on the head and thorax.

Painted Lady butterflies are actually mimics of the Monarchs. Half the size of a Monarch, their wingspan is a modest 5 – 7 cm.

They do not carry the same poisonous milk weed substance that wards off predators from the Monarch. But it is thought their similarities may work in their favour, deterring birds from selecting them for lunch.

The Painted Lady’s body appears as an indistinct grey. Their orange wings do not have the clearly marked veins but have black dots around the edges and white spots on the upper quadrant.

Like the Monarch, the Painted Lady is also migratory, flying into Manitoba from the warm south. Along the way, they mate and reproduce. Since most adults do not live more than a month, it is not just one generation of butterfly that makes this migration. Their offspring and their offspring’s' offspring make the journey into Canada, often by the millions.

The site for Canadian Biodiversity Information - www.cbif.gc.ca- has a growing library of digital information about the biological species of Canada.

Migratory butterflies including the Monarch, will soon leave us.  You can record your butterfly sightings on the website www.butterfliesandmoths.org.





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