Swarms of butterflies are invading inland sections of Southern California as a result of an unusually heavy migration of a common species making its way from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest to breed, experts say.

About 1 billion butterflies, known as Painted Ladies, are flying at speeds of 20 miles per hour in a northerly direction from the deserts of Mexico to reach breeding grounds in Oregon, said Tom Merriman, a director of Butterfly Farms, a nonprofit in north San Diego County dedicated to restoring the health of butterflies as pollinators.

Many callers have reported being amazed at the volume of these small, yellowish, orange and black butterflies the size of a silver dollar. Reports have come in from the coastal communities, Orange County, Inglewood, San Dimas, Glendora, Pasadena, Burbank, San Bernardino and Palm Desert.

“This kind of large migration is unusual,” Merriman said during an interview from his office in Encinitas. “They’ve laid tons of eggs in the desert, and so there may be over a billion butterflies.”

Callers to this news group and others who’ve posted on Facebook said they noticed the swarms last week and on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Mary Ames ran into the migration on Monday outside her home in Temecula.

“A huge migration went over my house between about 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. I’d say at least 100 a minute for the first 10 to 20 minutes, then at a slower rate,” Ames wrote in an email. “Must be some kind of record.”

“I have never in my life seen this sort of migration. They are flying so fast,” said Rene Amy, who witnessed a swarm at the Alice Dog Park at 3026 E. Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena.

Amy said he heard from a friend in west Pasadena who saw a swarm pass by his house.

“These things were flying at my vehicle. I didn’t want to hit them,” Amy said.

In Lake Forest, Michele Jones was going about her business on Tuesday — getting her hair done, picking up lunch at McDonald’s — when she was ambushed by painted ladies.

“It was amazing,” she said. “All of a sudden, there was like a million of them coming at me.”

When she got home, even more butterflies were streaming by her windows. Jones had no inkling that her house near Serrano Creek Park is on the Lepidoptera superhighway — she’s never seen anything like it in 27 years of living there, she said.

Jones’ only complaint about the painted ladies is that they didn’t stay longer.

“It is pretty to see them,” she said. “I wish they would stop. I have so many trees and bushes.”

Beach cities residents, including those in Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo Beach, started noticing the tiny butterflies on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday morning commuters in South Redondo Beach were treated to hundreds of the butterflies flitting about down Esplanade and Pacific Coast Highway.

Real estate broker Alex Smith caught sight of the butterfly swarm in Redondo Beach. He captured the flyover on a Facebook live video.

“All of a sudden there are just thousands and thousands of butterflies,” Smith said on the video. “There are butterflies everywhere. This is crazy. It’s the butterfly apocalypse.”

Smith described seeing hundreds of butterflies flying over the front yard, which were difficult to capture on video.

“They are everywhere,” he said.

Merriman believes the migration may continue for a month or until the butterflies run out of energy.

He advised anyone who sees these fast-moving butterflies to stay out of their way.

“Let them go. They are determined to go where they want to go. They want to go north, and they are moving pretty quick,” he said.

The Painted Lady butterfly is one of the more common butterflies in North America and is not endangered. They are a distant cousin of the monarch butterfly, which have experienced dramatic declines in recent years, Merriman said.

The large migration was prompted by the plentiful rains this winter, he said. The last previous mega-migration occurred in the spring of  2005 after one of the wetter years ever in California history.

Staff writers Alicia Robinson and David Rosenfeld contributed to this report.

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