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Monarch butterflies a rare sight but their fate is doomed come winter


The Monarch is a very rare member of Ireland’s butterfly fauna

The Monarch is a very rare member of Ireland’s butterfly fauna

The Monarch is a very rare member of Ireland’s butterfly fauna

The Monarch is a large butterfly sporting bold orange and black colours. While it is native to North America and southern Canada, the species turns up in Ireland on rare occasions raising the question: How does it get here?

The idea of a butterfly flying across the 6,650km width of the North Atlantic Ocean beggars belief. If it takes a trans-atlantic commercial jet flying at an average speed of say 900km/h about seven hours to complete the journey, how long would it take a fluttering butterfly?

And then factor in that the adventurous insect would have nowhere to land, nowhere to feed or to rest, and would have to fly non-stop through several nights in all sorts of weather. The idea of it ever happening appears impossible; and yet Monarchs do turn up here now and again.

The most likely explanation is that the North American butterflies get blown across the ocean by storms or the jet stream. The jet stream is a current of high-speed wind blowing eastwards at high altitude from America to Ireland. If a butterfly gets swept up into the path of a strong wind it is believed that it may make the trans-atlantic journey in as little as a few days.

Each year Monarchs migrate south from North America to overwinter in Mexico. Peak migration time is September and October. By two coincidences the hurricane season peaks in September and records show that most of the sightings of Monarchs in Ireland occur in September and October.

Monarchs can't survive our winters so those who beat the not insignificant odds and make it here alive are unfortunately doomed to perish.

In America, some people release butterflies at weddings, funerals, significant birthdays and other family events. Companies meet the demand by supplying boxes of live butterflies or kits to rear your own from tubs of live caterpillars.

There is evidence of the practice becoming popular on this side of the Atlantic. While Monarchs are the species of choice in America, Painted Ladies are the species most often used as 'live confetti' at weddings in Britain. The position in Ireland is less clear.

The practice is unacceptable on two grounds: health and animal welfare. Butterflies reared in captivity are more likely to be diseased, and many brides are not content with commonplace local species on their special day and look towards more exotic and more colourful species that, though pretty, have no chance of survival here.

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