A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the large influx of butterflies here at Londolozi. Summer in the Lowveld area of South Africa is a hub of butterfly activity. There are a few reasons for the prevalence of these winged wanderers during the hotter months.
The first is that summer is our rainy season and the rain supports the growth of the many different species of wild flowers whose nectar the butterflies feed on. The butterfly’s larvae – caterpillars – also feed on the new vegetation that springs up during summer.
Butterflies play an important role in helping pollinate the plants whose nectar they choose to feed on. The second reason for the butterfly’s presence in the warmer months is that that butterflies are only able to fly when the temperature is above 27 °C (81 °F). With the mercury regularly rising above this threshold temperature it’s no surprise that we see so many of them going about their daily business on these warm bushveld day.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to a few other species of butterfly that you may encounter on your next summer trip to Londolozi…
(NOTE: The numbering system follows on from my previous butterfly post)
6. Common Diadem – Hypolimnas misippus
If you read the last butterfly you may notice that the female common diadem looks awfully similar to the African monarch butterfly – that is no coincidence. These butterflies are masters of mimicry. The female diadem (who is not poisonous) looks almost identical to the highly poisonous African monarch. This mimicry is supposedly used in order to convince would-be predators to leave the diadem alone. The reasoning why the male diadem is black with blue bordered white spots, instead of the aposematic orange, remains unclear. Regardless of the colour, both the male and the female are striking to look at and worth keeping an eye out for.
7. Pearl Emporer – Charaxes varanes
Typically we associate butterflies with flowers but the pearl emperor butterflies have a few unusual dietary preferences – they are partial to rotting fruit and the males will even feed off rotting meat and carnivore scat. While we have an idea about where we could find these rather large butterflies, it’s still not easy to see them because of the manner in which they fly. The pearl emperor flies very quickly and usually higher above the ground than other butterflies. So next time you’re sitting under a fruiting marula tree it may be worth looking out for the emperor feeding on one of the fruits the the elephants forgot to eat.
8. Smoky Orange Tip – Colotis euippe omphale
In the previous butterfly post you were introduced to a close relative of the smoky orange tip, namely, the bushveld purple tip. Both these butterflies share the colourful tipped wings that are a hallmark of the Colotis genus. The smoky orange tip distinguishes itself from the others with its prominent smoky barring through the middle of the wing, making it unmistakable as it drifts through the gardens at camp. One extra reason to look out for this striking butterfly is that their larvae will often feed on a tree known as the Shepherd’s tree (Boscia albitrunca) which is rather rare in the immediate area surrounding Lonodolozi. I happen to know of one Shepherd’s that grows along the bank of the Manyelethi river, but maybe the smokey orange tip could potentially reveal a few more growing around in unexpected places.
9. Brown-veined White – Belenois aurota aurota
Similar to the smokey orange tip, the brown-veined white butterfly larvae also have a tendency to feed on the Shepard’s tree – a fact that provides at least one reason to keep an eye out for them. Often though, you won’t have to try very hard to see the brown-veined whites as they tend to group together and migrate in large numbers across the open marula crests that form part of Londolozi’s landscape. Every summer these butterflies will gather in their millions all over South Africa and migrate in a North-Easterly direction. This mass migration creates quite a stir amongst the animals that feed on butterflies and all sorts of birds will emerge and follow the migration in an attempt to gorge themselves on as much as they can. If you are lucky enough to see one of Africa’s lesser known migrations, be sure to have a birdlist handy as well!
10. Guineafowl – Hamanumida daedalus
This butterfly shares its name with the iconic South African bird – the helmeted guineafowl. The reasoning for this becomes clear when you get a chance to see the butterfly up close; both the bird and the butterfly have distinct white spots on top of a charcoal coloured background. Just like its namesake, the guineafowl butterfly is very vigilant and will move off quickly when disturbed. The guineafowl butterfly’s larvae prefer to feed on trees from the Combretum genus, a group of trees that is plentiful at Londolozi. From huge ancient leadwood trees growing by dry river beds to the red bushwillow saplings, there is an abundance of Combretum trees for the butterfly to select for its offspring. So next time you mark off the helmeted guineafowl on your bird list, try and see if you can spot the butterfly world’s equivalent.
With autumn on the distant horizon the colours and characters of the bushveld will start to change as the wheel of time turns. In time, the bright green, thick grasses of summer will give way to colours of bronze and chestnut and the memory of the season will fade as the excitement builds for what winter has to offer. For the time being however, we are still enjoying the summer and all the vibrance that it brings with it. Some of the true stars of the show are the butterflies that flutter around around the place fertilising plants, attracting birds and adding colour wherever they fly.
Make sure to keep an eye out for these magnificent insects as they make the most of the finale of a summer to remember.
In case you missed it, read The Butterfly Effect: Part 1