Wave of butterflies lights up weather radar A painted lady butterfly flies near daisies in a garden in downtown Denver Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Wave of butterflies lights up weather radar

It was a lacy, cloud-like pattern. It drifted across a radar screen. It was in the Denver area. It turned out to be a wave of butterflies. It was 70 miles wide. That's according to forecasters.

Paul Schlatter works for the National Weather Service. He said he first thought flocks of birds were making the pattern. But the cloud was headed northwest. It was going with the wind. Migrating birds would be southbound in October.

He asked birdwatchers on social media what it might be. He got his answer. People reported seeing painted lady butterflies. They looked like a loosely spaced net. They were drifting. They were going with the wind across the area.

Schlatter said the colors on the radar image are a result of the butterflies' shape. They are also a result of their direction. The colors he saw were not their own colors.

Midwestern radar stations pick up butterflies sometimes. Schlatter believes it's a first for Denver.

An unusually large number of painted ladies are sometimes mistaken for monarch butterflies. They have flown down on Colorado's Front Range. This has been in recent weeks. They feed on flowers. They sometimes fly together in what seem like clouds.

Sarah Garrett is a lepidopterist. She works at the Butterfly Pavilion. It is in Westminster. That is in Colorado. She said people from as far away as the Dakotas have called. They have reported seeing the butterflies. Their population typically surges with a lot of flowers.

Research on the painted ladies in North America is limited. Scientists think they migrate to the southwestern United States in the fall. They also migrate to northwestern Mexico. 

Studies using radio tracking have shown they migrate south from Europe to Africa. This is in the fall. They return in the spring. 

Studies also show that monarch butterflies often use wind to help. They glide on currents for periods of time, Garrett said.

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Why doesn’t radar show color of butterflies?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • tims-hol
    10/13/2017 - 09:58 a.m.

    The reason it doesn't show the color of the butterflies is because of the direction and shape of the butterflies.

  • matthewc-hol1
    10/13/2017 - 10:00 a.m.

    Radar typically can't show color because they track heat motions.

  • bradenb-hol1
    10/13/2017 - 10:05 a.m.

    The radar don't show the color of the butterflies because on the upward direction their flying. Which is opposite of the birds.

  • marissar-hol
    10/13/2017 - 10:13 a.m.

    radar doesn't show the color of butterflies because the radar is for the butterflies shape. It helps them figure out what kind it is.

  • parkern-hol
    10/13/2017 - 10:16 a.m.

    because of the shape of the butterflies give them a color on the radar they is not the right color for the butterflies.

  • matthewe-hol
    10/13/2017 - 03:11 p.m.

    The radar only shows shapes and that the color comes from the heat of the butterfly. radar doesn't reconcile butterflies colors.

  • oliviak-hol
    10/13/2017 - 03:32 p.m.

    The radar shows the color based on the shape of the butterflies and the direction they are heading.

  • katelynh-hol1
    10/13/2017 - 03:33 p.m.

    the radar doesn't show the color of butterflies because it will show other painted ladies.

  • ruchip-hol
    10/13/2017 - 03:33 p.m.

    The radar doesn't show color. It only picks up the shape and direction.

  • tylerb-hol1
    10/13/2017 - 03:33 p.m.

    Radar doesn't show color of butterflies because the shape and direction of wind alters the color shown on the radar.

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