Wondering where all those butterflies came from? Here's your answer

CBC Montreal's Daybreak sought out Maxim Larrivée, head of research and collections at the Montreal Insectarium, to explain exactly what's going on with the invasion of painted ladies.

They're called painted ladies, they aren't monarchs, and they're here to eat before they head south

If you live in southern Quebec, the butterflies you've been seeing all over the place are called painted ladies, and they've stopped here to refuel before heading south for the winter. (Submitted by Justin Taus)

It has been gorgeous the last few days, which means you've surely gotten outside to bask in the final days of summer weather.

Since you've been doing that, you may have noticed there are butterflies all over the place. Being the inquisitive person you are, you've been wondering why.

Well, we have your answers. CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty spoke to Maxim Larrivée, head of research and collections at the Montreal Insectarium, who explained exactly what's going on with the butterfly invasion.

This interview as been condensed and edited for clarity.

What is going on?

They're not baby monarchs, they're called painted ladies and they're actually migrating south.

Normally these butterflies migrate at a much higher altitude. It's been shown by U.K. scientists that they'll migrate up to 200, 300 metres in the air.

We don't witness their migration as often as we do monarchs. And they're in exceptional abundance this year, so they are all over the place.

We had really large numbers of them early this spring that came up from the southern United States, and they do that every year, but this year was fairly significant.

They went really far north so they had access to a lot territory this year, and they did great (reproduction-wise) so that's why we have this amazing amount of butterflies around Montreal and all of southern Quebec right now.

So this is good news?

I don't think seeing a lot of butterflies, unless they would be a pest for crops and everything, is ever bad news.

If they usually fly high, why are they down here with us?

They fly that high when they're in their migration in the fall. Generally we'll see a pattern like this, all kinds of individuals suddenly appearing, when the wind conditions or the migration conditions will be adverse.

They will come down and do exactly what we're seeing them doing, look for nectar on flowers, gorge themselves to replenish their energy levels and just get ready for when the conditions are right.

They just hang around, have a little rest, and something in their body will tell them when the wind and atmospheric conditions are right, and at that moment they take off.

They're going to the southern United States, the southwest, maybe northern Mexico and these places, where they can survive the winter, have another generation of butterflies and then get ready to start moving back north.

They are one of the most rugged and strongest butterflies out there.

Every butterfly looks delicate, of course, compared to other animals, but they can fly up to 30 km/h when they're surfing on the wind, they can fly with 15 per cent of their wing load when they get really damaged.

How are they different from monarch butterflies?

Well they're smaller, for one thing. 

Monarchs will be completely orange with black lines crossing the wings, and they will be orange on both sides.

These guys, if they close their wings, they actually have this model pattern that allows them to blend with the ground surface really easily.

The body will be different, it's dark brown, and they don't have the white dots on the abdomen. If you have them side by side, they are completely different, even for the untrained eye.
Painted lady butterflies look similar to monarchs from afar, but one expert says if you put the two species side by side, the differences are obvious. (Submitted by Justin Taus)

What's the best place to see them?

I would say the Botanical Garden and the Insectarium are the best places right now for the exact reason that there are still tonnes of flowers blooming.

We had hundreds and hundreds of them in the garden last week, and you'll have a chance to see them land and perched on flowers, gorging themselves with nectar and take some pretty amazing photos and videos.

I personally find it really nice. It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're surrounded by butterflies.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak