Tag Archives: South African Butterflies

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.

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.