A 30-Mile Cloud of Butterflies

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I was doing some research this morning for my piece about Lake Tahoe’s blueness when I came across an extraordinary item that ran in The New York Times 83 years ago.

The headline: “30-Mile Cloud of Butterflies Sweeps Across California Sun.” And the short article describes just that, an enormous cloud of orange “painted lady” butterflies that was moving “from the thistles of the Sierra Nevada slopes to better feeding grounds in the Sacramento Valley.”

My favorite line from the 1932 article: “Lake Tahoe, reflecting the soft tints of their wings, turned orange as far as the eye could reach.”