Mystery of the mass butterfly invasion

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A caper white butterfly feeding on lantana flowers, Glasshouse Mountains, Queensland. Picture: Paul Francis media_cameraA caper white butterfly feeding on lantana flowers, Glasshouse Mountains, Queensland. Picture: Paul Francis


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Hundreds of thousands of caper white butterflies have blown into Southeast Queensland in a phenomenon* that only happens about every six to 10 years.

Queensland Museum entomologist* Dr Chris Burwell said the mass quantity of butterflies originated* from western Queensland due to heavy rains about a month ago.

“The good rains meant plant growth and lots of caper white butterfly caterpillars growing up and emerging as butterflies which then migrated,” he said.

Why they come to southeast Queensland once every few years is a mystery.

“I can only speculate*, even though it is not a regular migration in the sense that they only travel in one direction at one time of the year and come back again in the other, it is a butterfly that is well known for having these big mass flights,” Dr Burwell said.

“These butterflies are well known for flying long distances, probably just tracking with what the winds are doing.”

Butterfly media_cameraThe butterflies may just go where the wind blows them. Picture: Jono Searle

Wynnum resident Rachel McGinn said she had seen thousands of butterflies around her suburb.

“It’s been constant, driving around it is like seeing paper flying through the air, it’s amazing,” she said.

“It’s really random how one day they are just here, and I am talking like thousands of them, they are beautiful.”

It’s not known how long the caper white butterflies will stick around the southeast or where the winds will take them next.

“It’s not the sort of thing you can really predict,” Dr Burwell said.

The last caper white butterfly migration happened in 2016 and was believed to have been caused by warm and stormy weather in the butterflies’ normal habitat.

“That was really widespread,” he said.

“There’s certainly lots around Brisbane at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be quite as widespread as it was in other years.

“It’s very early in the season so there is a good chance that if we keep getting good rains I suspect (the caterpillars) might go through another generation and we might even get another flight of them later on in the year.”

Dr Burwell said it can be challenging to identify the caper white butterflies while they are flying but they are largely white with black edging in the wings.

“The key thing is underneath the wings, they have a complicated pattern of black and yellow spots,” he said.


phenomenon: something we notice entomologist: insect scientist originated: first came from speculate: form a theory without firm evidence


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    What are these insects called? What is Chris Burwell an expert on? How often does this event usually happen? When did it happen last? Where are they coming from and going to? What do the butterflies look like?


1. Butterfly Portrait
Draw yourself in a portrait with the beautiful caper white butterflies surrounding you. You can choose your background as to where you are: at school, home, in your backyard, a field. Have yourself as part of the portrait and use the description of the butterflies to draw them surrounding you. Give your portrait a name.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Visual Arts

2. Extension
Why does warm and stormy weather contribute to butterfly migration? Draw a diagram to explain.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science

Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.

Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen in nature?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.


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