Tag Archives: South African Butterflies

The hills are alive… with butterflies!

I know this is a post that will be very pleasing to several of our regular followers!

With bright sunshine and warm autumn weather in the Drakensberg the butterflies come out to play in their numbers, and we go chasing them with camera in hand. These little beauties were all fluttering around Mahai in the Royal Natal National Park on Monday.

Wildlife encounter on the Rhino Trail - African Leopard Butterfly

African Leopard Butterfly

Phalanta phalanta aethiopica

The strikingly beautiful and very active African Leopard butterfly inhabits savanna, woodland, forest edges, parks and gardens and is found over much of South Africa, excluding most of the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape Provinces. It is also known as the Common Leopard and is widely distributed over Africa, Australia, southern Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Eggs are laid singly on a wide range of larval food plants, including exotic poplars and willows. Adults have a wingspan of between 4 and 5.5cm and are on the wing throughout the year.

Two-pip Policeman

Coeliades pisistratus

The Two-pip Policeman butterfly is a denizen of coastal bush and savanna habitats, occurring from Kwazulu-Natal through Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West to the Free State and eastern portions of the Northern Cape Province. Furthermore it is found widely over the remainder of sub-Saharan Africa in similar habitats. Eggs are laid singly and the larvae feed on a wide range of plants, their development from egg to adult butterfly taking around two months to complete. Adults have a wingspan of 4.5 – 7cm and can be seen throughout the year. They fly fast and erratic and adults of both sexes are frequently seen at flowers or mud puddles, usually in the early morning or late afternoon. Males are territorial.

Citrus Swallowtail

Papilio (Princeps) demodocus

The large Citrus Swallowtail butterfly (wingspan of 9 to 13cm) commonly occurs all over South Africa as well as the rest of the continent south of the Sahara, inhabiting a wide variety of habitats. They are strong fliers, often pausing on flowers and at mud puddles. Though they may be encountered throughout the year they are most frequently seen in the high summer, explaining why they’re also known as the “Christmas Butterfly”. Females lay eggs singly on the tops of leaves, the eggs hatching only a few days later. Their larvae can become pests in citrus orchards, Citrus-plants being just one of several related food plants utilised by this widely distributed species. Adults feed on nectar and rotting fruit.

Brown-veined White

Belenois aurota

The Brown-veined White could probably be South Africa’s most commonly seen butterfly, occurring throughout the year and migrating in their millions between December and February away from areas of overcrowding in the arid west towards the Mozambique Channel, laying batches of around 20 eggs at their point of departure and along the way as they go. The Shepherd’s Tree is the preferred larval food plant for this species here in South Africa, but they are also found over most of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and across Arabia and the Indian subcontinent where other members of the Caper plant-family would be important food sources. Adults, with a wingspan of about 4.5cm, feed on nectar and, while they are strong fliers, often pause at wet soil and mud for a drink.

African Monarch

Danaus chrysippus orientis

The African Monarch is one of our most commonly seen butterflies, flying throughout the year and occurring in every corner of our country. Furthermore they’re widespread over the rest of Africa, the Indian Ocean islands, large tracts of Asia and Australia, where they are known as the “Plain Tiger”. These butterflies prefer more open habitats, are regularly seen in parks and gardens, and fly rather slowly, settling often on flowers or wilted plants.

Females lay eggs singly on their favourite larval food plants from the Milkweed family (especially the genuses Asclepias, Ceropegia, Stapelia and Huernia). Their metamorphosis from egg to butterfly takes from 4 to 6 weeks depending on the local climate. Adults are medium-sized butterflies, with a wingspan of between 5 and 8cm, and feed on nectar and alkaloids from damaged or dying plants. Their colouration serves as warning to predators that this butterfly is foul-tasting (likely resulting from their feeding on milkweeds as larvae), and as a result several other kinds of more palatable butterflies mimic the same colours and patterns. They live for up to two weeks in their adult form.

Beautiful Butterfly Bounty!

One would be forgiven for expecting that the most memorable experience of a visit to the Kruger National Park would entail one of the big, charismatic mammals exhibiting some or other fascinating behaviour: a pride of lions making a kill, an elephant cow giving birth or a thousand-strong herd of buffalo stampeding to a waterhole, for instance. However, as I found out during my solo visit to the Kruger Park at the end of May, a bounty of beautiful butterflies can easily make those hairy-and-scary creatures fade into the background! In both Pretoriuskop and Skukuza Rest Camps I found blooming Lowveld Bittertea bushes (Gymnanthemum coloratum) and the surrounding gardens and lawns attended by literally hundreds of butterflies of at least 28 different species! They kept me busy and entertained for quite some time and I hope this gallery of pictures convey at least a sense of this awesome experience.

Of course, the butterflies were not the only insects making good use of the proliferation of winter flowers, and various other insects, most notably bees and wasps, were to be seen in attendance. A few dragonflies and birds then also made use of the opportunity to catch an easy meal on the wing.

Two weeks later we returned to the Kruger Park, this time to Shingwedzi Rest Camp about 280km north of Skukuza. Here we found fewer butterflies – perhaps winter had set in now, with nighttime temperatures especially being on the cold side – but there were still enough of them flitting around to keep us thoroughly engaged while spending the midday hours in camp.

I’d like to dedicate this post to a great friend to de Wets Wild and the biggest butterfly fundi I know – AJ Vosse of  “Ouch My Back Hurts” .