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Conditions right for mass butterfly migration

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Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2018 1:50 pm

Fluttering indiscriminately and seemingly without direction, the snout-nose hackberry butterfly is not entirely the aimless wanderer it appears to be.

And although it looks like there may be more splattered on car grills and windshields than in flower-filled fields, neither their population nor propagation is threatened.

Mimicking fall leaves with their orange, black and brown wings, the snout-nose migration to the warmer climate of the Rio Grande Valley typically happens around this time every year.

However, the explosive quantity of butterflies seen chaotically flapping about this year is a bit of an anomaly.

“This is not the usual north-to-south seasonal migration,” entomologist Lee Haile said. “When the weather and conditions are just right west of us and the hackberries are growing well, the population can build up to amazing numbers, and that’s what prompts the migration.”

Haile said this huge dispersal migration was prompted by beneficial rain.

“Dispersal migrations occur when a population builds up to a high density in the area, which in this case is just west of us. The individuals mass together and seek an area where it is less densely populated,” Haile said.

Taking the path of least resistance, the butterflies utilize the north wind to push them on their yearly migration to the southeast, said Haile. When the winds shift, rather than fight the flow, they will sometimes hang around until they can catch a ride on the next north wind or until there are no more leftovers in the fridge.

“Sometimes this is as far as they need to go to feel they are in a better place with more food,” Haile said.

Other experts say if the fall is wet and mild, the snout-nose may linger longer than normal.

So area residents have no real need for remorse during that visit to the carwash, though an extra scrub may be required.

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