Image: Michael Hanselmann/Wikimedia Commons.

Has the painted lady butterfly been seen in Iceland?

 In Ask IR, Magazine, Nature

Q: There are large numbers of the migrant butterfly the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) in Sweden right now – they migrate from North Africa and the Middle East. Are there any observations in Iceland? -Håkan Schön

A: About 100 species of moths and butterflies have been spotted in Iceland over the years. Of the 100 species, 94 are moths and only six are butterflies. Iceland’s changeable weather is most likely the reason why there are so few butterflies to be found. The recorded species are: the European peacock (Aglais io), the small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), the small white (Pieris rapae), the cabbage butterfly (Pieris brassicae), and the painted lady. So, the painted lady does make it to Iceland sometimes, migrating thousands of kilometres north, but it’s not regularly sighted as it is in Sweden. Whether butterflies make it to Iceland depends on weather and warm air currents. There are also cases of butterflies arriving on freighter ships, such as the peacock butterfly.

None of the six species of butterflies that have been recorded in Iceland are endemic to the country – only moths are. The largest moth seen in Iceland is the convolvulus hawk-moth (Agrius convolvuli). Most moths in Iceland are darkly coloured and monochromatic. Common moths include the mottled umber (Erannis defoliaria) and the winter moth (Operophtera brumata). Also, in the cool North Atlantic surrounding Iceland, you will find one more type of “butterfly:” the sea butterfly. A species of pelagic sea slugs, sea butterflies are so called because they “fly” through the water with their parapodia.

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