Sunday book review – The Painted Lady by Elvira Werkman and Maxime Beck

This is a smallish book, Ladybird book in size, of 80 pages, over 20 of which are occupied by Maxime Beck’s attractive illustrations. The text, by Elvira Werkman, covers a lot of ground very clearly in such a short space. I read most of the book, with pleasure, in one sitting. There is a useful index.

The Painted Lady is a phenomenon – some years there are few seen in the UK but in others the numbers are very high. I remember, but it was years ago, seeing tens of thousands of Painted Ladies on thistles in a single field. And another time, happening to be at canopy level in a Northants woodland, seeing butterflies whizzing past, at quite a lick, all heading generally northwards – they were Painted Ladies.

This year seems to have been quite a good year in the UK, but not one of those truly exceptional years where this butterfly seems to be everywhere for a few weeks.  My buddleia in the garden is still flowering and Painted Ladies would be welcome to visit!

The Painted Lady is the most widespread butterfly in the world –  found in Europe/Asia and Africa and in North/Central America too. We now understand that it is a habitual migrant with the population about to head south for Africa now and that it will return to northern Europe next spring and summer. But who returns? Not the same individuals as they don’t live that long. A year will see the species cover nearly 15,000km but that is achieved in around 8-10 generations of butterflies. How stupendous! And the same scale of migration, from Canada to Mexico is taking place, by the same species, in North America. Wow!

An individual butterfly currently in northern Europe may cross the Alps, the Mediterranean and then the Sahara to produce the next generation in the Sahel if the rains have come at the right time and with sufficient volume.  Just wow!

This book fills in the details of the Painted Lady’s life story and something of its place in human culture. It’s a short and gripping read.

The cover makes it pretty clear what the book is about and is rather nice. The illustrations through the book are of similar quality and enhance the reading experience. I’d give it 8/10.

The Painted Lady by Elvira Werkman and Maxime Beck is published by Noordboek Natuur (but it is listed, but not currently priced, on Amazon too).


3 Replies to “Sunday book review – The Painted Lady by Elvira Werkman and Maxime Beck”

  1. I think my attention span might survive this book this Chrimbo. In fact I think a boxed set covering all the frequently seen species in UK would be a good ideol but this might not be a priority for Noordboek Natuur even if de distelvlinder is de vlinder aller vlinders .

    As for a actual Painted Lady – none seen this year. Nor Hummingbird Hawk Moth – despite the buddleias. Other common species as expected except Red Admirables and Peacocks a bit sparse. A good Brimstone year and first time I have seen swarms of Cabbage Whites drinking from puddles

    1. West Midlands here. Have seen half a dozen Ladies and 7 Hummers this year, mainly at Buddleia’s, so probably a low or average sort of year for them. Red Ad’s have done very well, still seeing 3 or 4 a day (at Ivy flowers now). Peacock’s, Small Tort’s and Brimstone’s were in good numbers during the spring, less so in the summer. Comma’s also had a great year in this neck of the woods, as did all 3 common White’s.

  2. In big Painted Lady years they have been recorded reaching as far as Iceland, I believe. Amazing creatures.

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