Tag Archives: South African Butterflies

Summertide Diary: Butterfly Bonanza (and a few other insects too)

When we first walked to the KuMfazana hide on our recent visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we didn’t quite find what we expected. Normally, if the pans in front of the hide holds water, there are hippos and crocodiles and a myriad of water-dependent birds to keep visitors entertained for hours. This time however it was the walkway through the swamp forest to the hide that held us enthralled for hours, and not because of some “hairy and scary” creatures either…

We dubbed this stretch of the walkway to the hide at kuMfazana “Butterfly Glen”

It was thanks to the sheer numbers and diversity of butterflies to be seen along this short walk that we visited kuMfazana almost daily for the week that we were at Cape Vidal in January 2021. Last time I saw anything like it was during a solitary autumn visit to the Kruger National Park in 2019. iSimangaliso’s rich plantlife and habitats supports an extraordinary list of butterfly species, each seemingly more beautiful than the one you’ve seen just before. Other spots in the Park, most notably at Cape Vidal and Mission Rocks, also contributed to the bounty but none so richly as kuMfazana. I really hope this gallery gives you an idea of what we experienced that week.

While not nearly as conspicuous as their butterfly cousins there also was a few eye-catching moths to be found.

The diversity of dragonflies on the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia almost matches that of the butterflies, and I was frustrated at not being able to identify the species most of them belonged to. Realising how little I actually know about these often seen insects I’m determined to remedy that as soon as possible.

Insects of all kinds thrive in iSimangaliso’s sub-tropical climate. Regrettably that includes mosquitoes…

When we saw a spider-hunting wasp dragging a paralysed sac spider to its nest I must admit to getting a large dose of pleasure from the hapless spider’s predicament. Sac spiders are among the most venomous spiders in South Africa and responsible for most of the serious spider bites suffered in our country. They deliver a nasty bite of cytotoxic venom and the bite-site is prone to secondary infection. The reason for my schadenfreude? A sac spider bit a then infant Joubert resulting in a visit to the emergency room late night on a New Years eve a few years ago…


Summertide Rambles 20 January 2021

The trail to the kuMfazana Hide here on the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, passes through a stretch of swamp forest that is positively bursting with butterflies, like this Novice (Amauris ochlea).


Forest Beauty

Paralethe dendrophilus

The Forest Beauty or Forest Pride is, as its name suggests, a beautiful butterfly inhabiting temperate coastal and mountain forests in eastern South Africa, from the Eastern Cape to the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It is a shy butterfly that flies low and fast and hides in the shade, usually against a tree trunk, when at rest or threatened. With a wingspan of up to 7cm the females of this species is a little larger than the males. Forest Beauties have a single generation annually, with adults only seen between December and May when the females scatter their fertilised eggs among grass on the forest floor. The larvae feed on various grasses and is slow growing; the full life-cycle from egg to adult takes a whole year.

Common Dotted Border

Mylothris agathina

The Common Dotted Border occurs in a range of habitats, from fynbos to woody grasslands, savanna and forest, with their larvae feeding on an equally diverse range of food plants. They’re also quite often found in parks and gardens throughout their range. Adults can be seen year-round, and have a wingspan of 5 – 7.5cm. They fly slow and high. Females lie clusters of 40 to 70 eggs.

In South Africa, the Common Dotted Border is commonly seen along the southern coast and adjacent interior from the Cape Peninsula to Kwazulu-Natal, and inland through Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Gauteng and the Free State. They’re also widespread north of our borders, being found as far as Cameroon and Ethiopia.

Patrician Blue

Lepidochrysops patricia

With a wingspan of 4.5cm, the Patrician Blue is one of the largest members of the family. Patrician Blues are rare in the Western Cape and occurs only in the eastern-most reaches of the Northern Cape, but otherwise occur commonly all over our seven other provinces. They have a wide habitat tolerance, occurring from mountain grasslands to the edges of forests but are most common in savannas. Adults are only seen between spring and autumn, reaching a peak in numbers in November and December.

Like other butterflies of the genus Lepidochrysops the Patrician Blue employs a most interesting breeding strategy. Their larvae feed on the immature seeds of Salvia– and Lantana plant species in their first two developmental stages and then exude a pheromone that prompts Carpenter Ants (Camponotus spp.) to carry the caterpillars into their nests, where they feed on the larvae of the ants until they pupate. After emerging from the chrysalis the adult butterfly then crawls out of the ants’ nest.

African Migrant

Catopsilia florella

The African Migrant is one of the most widespread butterflies occurring in South Africa and can be found in every corner of the country in an extensive variety of habitats, reaching their highest densities in savanna areas. Adults are on the wing throughout the year. This species is well known for its migrating behaviour which reaches a peak in the late summer months, heading in their numbers in a north-easterly direction at a steady pace, stopping only occasionally to feed or lay eggs. Their larvae subsist on a variety of plants from the genera Cassia and Senna. Adults have a wingspan of 6cm.

Common Diadem

Hypolimnas misippus

The Common Diadem is a large butterfly with a wingspan of 6 to 8cm. The males are distinctive with a velvety black and blue sheen and striking white blotches to the top of their wings, while the females are excellent mimics of the notoriously foul-tasting African Monarch, which supposedly aids in evading predators. With the exclusion of the arid western parts of the country the Common Diadem is widely distributed in South Africa, being found in habitats ranging from grassland and savanna to forest edges, parks and gardens. It is one of the most widespread species of butterfly and, apart from Africa, is also found in parts of Asia, Australia and the Caribbean (the females in different parts of the world mimic different kinds of butterflies). Adults can be seen throughout the year though they’re much more common in the late summer months.

Common Purple Tip

Colotis ione

The Common , or Bushveld, Purple Tip is another one of our South African butterflies where the males and females look so different that it would be very easy to confuse them for entirely different species – even within each of the sexes there’s a great variation of colour combinations that become more or less pronounced in the dry or wet season, making for a very tricky identification indeed! With a wingspan of around 5cm the Common Purple Tip is one of the larger species of the “tips” butterflies (genus Colotis).

These striking butterflies are on the wing throughout the year and, being a savanna species, in South Africa occur from the southern reaches of Kwazulu-Natal into the Lowveld and Bushveld regions of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Province. They’re also widely distributed through the savanna areas of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The larvae feed on the leaves of plants from the Boscia, Maerua and Capparis genuses.

Geranium Bronze

Cacyreus marshalli

The Geranium Bronze butterfly is a tiny (wingspan ≈2cm) but very well known inhabitant of most South African gardens, occurring in a wide range of natural and man-made habitats all over the country except in the driest parts of the Karoo and Kalahari. Their major larval food plants are from the geranium and pelargonium families, many of which are popular garden plants too – the species was inadvertently introduced to Europe and the UK with garden plants exported from here and are now considered a pest in those parts. Adults are weak fliers, seldom going higher than a meter above the ground, settling regularly for extended periods and often remaining in the same general area for days on end. Geranium Bronze butterflies are on the wing throughout the year, but they are most abundant in summer.

Guinea-fowl Butterfly

Hamanumida daedalus

The Guinea-fowl Butterfly occurs commonly from Kwazulu-Natal through Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo to the North West Province. They are also found through tropical Africa to Arabia, inhabiting savanna and forest habitats. Females lay single eggs on Combretum and Terminalia trees. Adults are on the wing year round, have a wingspan measuring between 5.5 and 8cm, and is attracted to rotting fruit. They fly slow and low, gliding over paths and bare patches, but are very nervous and will dart away at great speed when disturbed.