A Billion Butterflies Visit Israel

Friday, March 22, 2019 |  David Lazarus

An extraordinary migration of hundreds of millions of brilliantly-colored butterflies covered Israel during the Purim celebrations.

According to the Association of Butterflies in Israel, between 700 million and just over a billion painted-lady butterflies are now passing through Israel on their way to Europe in search of food and toward their annual breeding grounds.

Citizens around the country are reporting that masses of butterflies have been seen flying over the southern Arava region, across the Sharon Valley, and through major city centers up to the Carmel Mountain range.

According to Noam Kirshenbaum of the Association of Butterfly Lovers in Israel, this is the largest migration event ever seen in Israel. A survey sample showed that many thousands per hour of the painted-ladies can be seen migrating across the skies compared to just a few hundred in a similar event five years ago.

Dubi Binyamini, a butterfly researcher and chairman of the Association of Butterfly Lovers in Israel, explained on their Facebook page that like birds, the butterflies migrate in search of food. In January and February this year, huge amounts of rain fell not only in Israel, but also in the Arabian Peninsula and “the desert bloomed,” Benyamini noted. “Every female of the painted-lady can lay up to 500 eggs,” and he estimates that within days about one million butterflies are hatched from a single female. When the food sources dry up in the desert, the butterflies set off in search of nourishment across Israel on their way to Europe for the summer.

Scientists are still unable to determine how the butterflies have this “built-in knowledge” and know to fly north. “There is an annual cycle of migration during spring. They come up from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, fly north across Israel to the Carmel Mountain range, then turn west across the Mediterranean to Cyprus and continue on to Europe to build the next generation,” Binyamini said in the interview. In order to survive the thousands of kilometers journey, and many will not survive, the butterflies rest in Israel to feed on the nectar of the wide variety of the Land’s wildflowers and get the energy needed to continue the migration across the Mediterranean towards Cyprus and Turkey.

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