25 May 2013

Painted Lady – Shedgum Escarpment

As Saudi Arabia has a mostly desert environment it is often difficult to persuade people that wildlife can be abundant at certain times in the region. One such even that occurs annually is the migration of Painted Lady butterflies which is one of no less than 130 species of butterfly that occur in the Arabian region. The majority of these butterflies live in the mountainous regions of south-west Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, but even the desert regions have their permanent and semi-permanent residents. The Painted Lady belongs to a group of butterflies which have not specialized, yet also survive. They are a migrant species and their survival strategy is based on mobility and the endless search for conditions where they can breed. The Painted Lady is the world's most cosmopolitan butterfly and when it has a successful breeding season; individual butterflies can fly in any direction with some travelling thousands of kilometres. Thus if some habitat in Arabia is suddenly blessed with an abundance of rain, some Painted Lady will almost certainly find it, breed and lay their eggs. Their progeny will then almost certainly leave the area, so if the area is not suitable for breeding again for many years, it won't matter; the progeny will have found still other places to breed. Obviously many butterflies die in such a process as this nomadic life is harsh, but the species will survive. The Painted Lady and other migrant butterflies are less specialized in their choice of food plant and habitat than most of the sedentary species. This is because they can't be as fussy to survive and as a result can live in harsher environments. If winter rains have been good and flora has flourished the number of Painted Lady recorded increases significantly.