UK set for butterfly invasion as millions of Painted Ladies are predicted to fly in
The UK could be experiencing a once-in-a-decade wildlife phenomenon this year with a mass influx of Painted Lady butterflies, experts have said.
Unusually high numbers have been reported across Europe over spring and early summer.
There have already been around 145 sightings in Northern Ireland, with 85 near Bangor, 10 on Rathlin Island, eight near Newcastle and several sightings near Londonderry and Belfast.
TV naturalist Chris Packham is urging people to take part in the world's largest insect survey by citizens, the annual Big Butterfly Count, to see if the Painted Ladies are arriving in their millions to the UK's shores this year.
The butterfly is a common immigrant from the continent to the UK each summer where its caterpillars feed on thistles, but around once every 10 years there is a Painted Lady "summer" when millions arrive.
Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, which runs the Big Butterfly Count, said the last mass immigration took place in 2008 when around 11m Painted Ladies came to the UK.
Mr Packham, who is vice president of Butterfly Conservation, called it "one of the wonders of the natural world".
"Travelling up to 1km in the sky and at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, these seemingly fragile creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year.
"This butterfly undertakes an extraordinary 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year - almost double the length of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America.
"Signs across Europe are looking very promising, meaning that 2019 could be a very good year for the Painted Lady with high numbers already being recorded across parts of the UK.
"The butterfly can turn up anywhere so please take part in the Big Butterfly Count and look out for them - you could be witnessing a once-in-a-decade butterfly phenomenon."
Participants are encouraged to record 17 species of common butterfly during three weeks of high summer, to help experts see how the insects are faring.
A Big Butterfly Count Family Day Out is taking place at Creggan Country Park in Londonderry next Friday, July 26, with a wildlife safari and Big Butterfly Count at Dungannon Park in Tyrone on Tuesday, July 30.
There is also a chance to head south into the Republic of Ireland, where a guided butterfly walk is taking place at The Burren in Co Clare on August 10 and 11 - the final weekend of the Big Butterfly Count.