Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the April 19, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

Shrubby manzanitas are flowering profusely now and on warm, sunny afternoons if you go stand beside them probably among the blossoms you'll see several butterflies flitting like the one shown below.


That's a Painted Lady, VANESSA CARDUI, possibly the world's most widespread butterfly, being distributed almost worldwide, except for South America and the polar regions. Notice that the individual in the picture is a bit faded. All the Painted Ladies I've seen here are old, faded ones, and there's a story in that.

Painted Ladies disappear between the first heavy frost and the onset of spring -- they can't survive very cold weather. Nor do they leave eggs or cocoons to emerge in the spring. In the colder parts of its distribution the species is simply wiped out when winter comes.

In spring, then, Painted Ladies who have survived in warm areas make one-way trips into colder territory where they've disappeared over the winter. Therefore, the faded individuals I'm seeing now on the manzanitas have just arrived after long flights from frost-free areas far to the south.

There's a lot of discussion on how altruism could have evolved. I think a much more engaging question is how the Painted Lady could have evolved to send vast numbers of individuals on one-way trips into regions where eventually they and their genes will all be wiped out. Once answer may be Nature's irrepressible urge to fill voids with life, and Her focus on the welfare of the species or community, not the individual organism. And maybe that answer lies more in the spiritual realm than the scientific.

from the June 5, 2005 Newsletter, issued from the   Sierra Nevada Foothills east of Sacramento, California:

This Thursday my friends returned from a visit in Utah and their van front was spattered with smashed butterflies. They said the desert in Nevada was green and that in some places they had to drive through veritable clouds of butterflies.

All the bodies on the radiator grill belonged to the same species. They were Painted Ladies, VANESSA CARDUS, which my Audubon Guide says "is perhaps the most widespread butterfly in the world, found throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and many islands, as well as in North America."