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
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A lacy, cloud-like pattern drifted across a Denver-area radar screen. It turned out to be a 70-mile-wide (110-kilometer) wave of butterflies. 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 he saw on the radar Tuesday. But the cloud was headed northwest with the wind and migrating birds would be headed southbound in October.

He asked birdwatchers on social media what it might be and by Wednesday he had his answer. People reported seeing a loosely spaced net of painted lady butterflies drifting with the wind across the area.

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

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

An unusually large number of painted ladies are sometimes mistaken for monarch butterflies. They have descended on Colorado's Front Range in recent weeks. They feed on flowers, sometimes flying together in what seem like clouds.

Sarah Garrett is a lepidopterist at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado. She said people from as far away as the Dakotas have called to report seeing the butterflies, whose population typically surges with plentiful flowers.

Research on the painted ladies in North America is limited. Scientists believe they migrate to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico in the fall. In Europe, studies using radio tracking have shown they migrate south from Europe to Africa in the fall and return in the spring. Studies also show that monarch butterflies often use wind to their advantage and glide on currents for periods of time, Garrett said.

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


COMMENTS (25)
  • SarahT-del
    10/12/2017 - 04:46 p.m.

    There was a massive wave of animals, a 70-mile-wide (110-kilometer), to be precise shown up on the weather radar. At first it was guessed to be birds but birds would be traveling northbound in October; it was surprisingly butterflies.

  • ZofiaT-del
    10/12/2017 - 05:17 p.m.

    Paul Schlatter is part of the National Weather Service. One day he saw a 70-mile wide "cloud" over Denver. It turned out to the painted lady butterflies. On the radar, instead of showing the ladies unique colors, it was completely different. That is why he thought he saw a cloud or birds. People in Denver had a beautiful sight to see that day.

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    - paragraph assigned.

  • ChloeT-del
    10/12/2017 - 05:34 p.m.

    Paul Schlatter identified insects and birds that lighted up the weather radar. In Denver he though he saw a flock of birds flying northwest with the wind. But it was actually painted lady butterflies drifting with the wind. He said the colors of the butterflies on the radar were not the actual color, it was their shapes and direction. Sarah Garrett, a lepidopterist, said that monarch butterflies use the wind as an advantage to glide on currents. I think that these butterflies are so fascinating! They are truly amazing insects who really know how to impress people!

  • JuliaA -del
    10/12/2017 - 06:12 p.m.

    If I see a painted butterfly, I will know that it isn't a monarch butterfly. I know now lepidopterists are people who study butterflies.

  • EmilyN-del1
    10/12/2017 - 07:25 p.m.

    The radar does not shoe the color of the butterflies. It only shows the shape of the butterflies. This article is fascinating. I think that it is amazing the you can see butterflies shape and movement from a radar.

  • OlivierJ-del
    10/12/2017 - 07:41 p.m.

    It is very surprising that butterflies can show up in such big groups on a radar.The scientists believe that the butterflies are migrating

  • EthanG-del1
    10/12/2017 - 09:15 p.m.

    The radar does not show real images of the butterflies.

  • brycew-orv
    10/15/2017 - 02:49 p.m.

    The radar didn't show the color of the butterflies because the butter were mistaken for monarch butterflies which have a different type of color to them.

  • JaredI-del
    10/15/2017 - 09:38 p.m.

    it really did not grab my interest but it was ok.

  • EsmeraldaV-del
    10/15/2017 - 10:38 p.m.

    According to the article, the radar does not show color of butterflies. Paul Schlatter says "the colors on the radar image are a result of the butterflies' shape and direction." The colors that he saw apparently weren't the butterflies color. Also, butterflies would fly together and it would seem as if they were clouds on the radar.

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