Red admiral butterflies have been attracting attention all over the city and throughout New Jersey this weekend. Scientists agree that the abundance of these flower-loving creatures is an unusual occurrence.
“It’s a nice phenomenon for once,” said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, a scientist at the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, a Cornell-affiliated outpost based on Long Island. Gangloff-Kaufmann specializes in the study of urban pests, which include nuisances like bedbugs, ticks and mosquitoes, as well as butterflies and bees. Over weekend she was admiring tons of butterflies outdoors in the city.
Gangloff-Kaufmann said experts don’t know with certainty what has caused the uptick in the population, but she and others suspect that storm patterns and this year’s mild winter may be factors.
“I suspect that the mild temperatures have caused them to migrate earlier,” she said.
Scientists like Lawrence Abrahamson, a senior research associate with SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, have heard reports that large swarms of red admirals have been spotted upstate in Buffalo and Rochester as well.
“When they drop in on an area, they drop in by the thousands,” Abrahamson explained. He says that during migration, the butterflies often bunch up when storm fronts hit, causing them to descend in swarms. Abrahamson and others speculate that the offspring of butterflies that bred last fall may have survived the warm winter, thus adding to the current influx.
But luckily, unlike other types of insects and pests, butterflies like the red admirals are completely harmless, even when they’re out in droves.
“They don’t feed on any crops or food or shrubs or trees, it’s not an economic problem,” Gangloff-Kaufmann said.
So while scores of them are in town, New Yorkers can enjoy the spectacle before the red admirals continue on their journey and make their way north to Canada.