Tag Archives: South African Butterflies


Bematistes aganice

The Wanderer inhabits montane, coastal and riverine forests. It normally stays high in the canopy of lofty forest trees, moving around with slow, confident wing beats – having a rather disagreeable taste most predators stay well clear of them. The male is territorial and will chase any other butterflies, not only of their own kind, that venture into his patch. Adults have a wingspan of about 7cm and can be seen year-round.

In South Africa it is found in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and beyond our borders as far afield as East Africa.

Common Bush Brown Butterfly

Bicyclus safitza

The Common Bush Brown inhabits savannas, woodlands and open forests on South Africa’s eastern coast and borders, stretching from Knysna on the Garden Route to the Soutpansberg in Limpopo. Adults have a wingspan of around 45mm and can be seen throughout the year, flying low to the ground and settling often. Males are darker than females. They are fond of rotting fruit.

Forest Leopard Butterfly

Phalanta eurytis

In South Africa, the Forest Leopard Butterfly is found over most of Kwazulu-Natal and along the escarpment in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where it inhabits dense woodland and forests (coastal, riverine and montane). Beyond our borders their distribution stretches through tropical Africa to Sudan and Ethiopia. Adults have a wingspan of about 45mm and are on the wing year round. They’re attracted to flowers and wet mud.

False Dotted Border

Belenois thysa

In South Africa the False Dotted Border occurs in and on the edges of coastal and riverine forest habitat in Kwazulu-Natal and the extreme eastern parts of the Eastern Cape. Adults fly slowly and settle often and are on the wing throughout the year. They have a wingspan of around 55mm. Larvae feed on plants from the genus Boscia, Capparis and Maerua.

African Grass (Sooty) Blue Butterfly

Zizeeria knysna

The African Grass Blue, or Sooty Blue, Butterfly, is common and widespread in every corner of South Africa. Furthermore, they’re found throughout the rest of our continent, in Arabia, Cyprus and Spain. It occurs in every habitat, from desert to forest, and is one of the most abundant butterflies on suburban lawns, having a special fondness for open grassy areas. Adults are on the wing throughout the year and have a wingspan of only about 2-2.5cm.

Boisduval’s Tree Nymph

Sevenia boisduvali

Boisduval’s Tree Nymph is the most commonly encountered member, and with a wingspan of about 4cm also the smallest, of the butterfly genus Sevenia. They inhabit coastal and montane forests and dense woodlands and are usually seen gliding through the shadows or basking in the sun against a branch or trunk. Boisduval’s Tree Nymphs may swarm in their thousands at the end of summer, though adults may be found throughout the year. Adults are attracted to leaking tree sap and rotting fruit while the gregarious larvae feed on plants from the Euphorbiaceae-family.

In South Africa, Boisduval’s Tree Nymph occurs from the Eastern Cape northwards along the Indian Ocean coast and adjacent interior through Kwazulu-Natal and into the lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Beyond our borders their distribution extends to Ethiopia in the north-east and Sierra Leone in the west.

African Wood White

Leptosia alcesta

The Afrikaans name for the African Wood White, “Fladderpapiertjie”, which translates to “fluttering piece of paper”, perfectly describes the undulating motion of this tiny,  bright white butterfly as it restlessly flies around in the deep shade of the forest understory.

Eggs are laid singly on plants from the Capparis or Maerua genera on which the larvae feeds. The pupae are equally tiny, being only slightly bigger than the head of a match. Adults have a wingspan of only 3-4cm and are seen throughout the year.

In South Africa, the African Wood White is found in coastal, riverine and montane forest habitats in Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It further occurs in suitable habitat throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Novice Butterfly

Amauris ochlea

The Novice is a foul-tasting butterfly that flies slowly and settles often on flowers and wilting plants. It inhabits forests and dense woodlands and the edges of these. Adults have a wingspan of 7cm and are on the wing throughout the year. In South Africa it is common along the Kwazulu-Natal coast and adjacent interior as well as in the Lowveld and escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

The Deceptive Diadem (Hypolimnas deceptor) mimics the Novice in appearance and thus avoids predators.

Green-banded Swallowtail Butterfly

Papilio nireus

The Green-banded Swallowtail, also known as the Black Velvet, is a large and strikingly coloured butterfly with a wingspan of almost 10cm. Adults can be seen throughout the year, though much more commonly in the summer months. About equal in size, females can be distinguished by the greenish sheen to the bands on their wings while that boasted by males are bluer in colour. They fly fast and direct, and often hover over flowers, mud puddles and fresh droppings. The larvae feed on a wide variety of food plants, including citrus.

In South Africa the Green-banded Swallowtail occurs from the Garden Route through most of Kwazulu-Natal and into Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng, inhabiting forests, woodland, savannas and well planted suburban gardens and parks, with its distribution further extending over most of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Flying Handkerchief / Mocker Swallowtail Butterfly

Papilio dardanus

Not only is the Mocker Swallowtail one of the biggest and most beautiful butterflies to be found in South Africa, but it can also be one of the most confusing! The males, also known as Flying Handkerchiefs, boast extravagantly shaped wings with striking black and cream-white markings, while the females are excellent at mimicking at least 14 other species of foul-tasting or poisonous butterfly across their sub-Saharan African distribution, with their comparably larger size usually the best clue to their true identity. Adults have a wingspan measuring up to 11cm and fly throughout the year, though much less numerous in the cooler months.

The Mocker Swallowtail inhabits riverine, montane and coastal forests. In South Africa it is commonly found from the Garden Route, through Kwazulu-Natal and along the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo to the Soutpansberg range.

Larvae feed on a wide range of food plants from the Rutaceae family which includes citrus plants. The feminine progeny of a single female can metamorphose into a variety of mimic forms and don’t necessarily all look like their mother. Larvae grow quickly and complete their transformation within a few weeks.