Tag Archives: South African Butterflies

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” .

Garden Acraea

Acraea horta

As its name implies, the Garden Acraea is a commonly seen butterfly of South African gardens, though its natural habitat preference is for woodland and forested areas in which their larval food plants of choice (mainly Wild Peach and Passion Flowers) occurs. Seen throughout the year, though more commonly in spring and summer, they fly low and slow, relying on their foul taste to deter predators. Adults have a wingspan of around 5cm, with females being slightly larger than males. Garden Acraeas are found along the southern Cape coast, through the Eastern Cape, Free State, Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng to the North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces.

Yellow Pansy

Junonia hierta

The Yellow Pansy is a commonly seen butterfly occurring over most of South Africa. They are very active, flying low and fast and often returning to more or less the same spot – males may even be territorial. They occur in a wide range of open habitats and are usually seen singly.

The Yellow Pansy’s larvae feeds on a wide variety of herbs. Adults are on the wing throughout the year and measure 4-5cm from wingtip to wingtip. The IUCN lists the species as being of least concern. They occur widely over Africa, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.


Rainforest Brown

Cassionympha cassius

The Rainforest Brown butterfly occurs in forests, wooded ravines and thick bush, flying low along thickly vegetated margins and paths and settling often. They’re endemic to Swaziland and South Africa and occur commonly along the southern and eastern coastline and adjacent interior as far inland as the escarpment and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.

Larvae feed on grasses of the Juncus and Pentaschistis genuses. Adults are seen between September and May and have a wingspan of 3-4cm. The Rainforest Brown is listed as being of least concern in the South African Red Data Book.

Common Blue Butterflies

Leptotes species

We have four-species of Leptotes butterflies that are so similar to each other that they’re impossible to distinguish in the field. Three of these, the Common Zebra Blue (L. pirithous), the Babault’s Blue (L. babaulti) and Short-toothed Blue (L. brevidentatus) are widely distributed over the country, while Jeannel’s Blue (L. jeanneli) occurs only in the Lowveld.

The Common Blues inhabit a wide range of natural vegetation, cultivated fields and gardens all over the country throughout the year. They’re also familiar over most of the rest of Africa, Madagascar, the Near East and southern Europe. Adults often congregate at wet mud and have a wingspan of 2-3cm.

The larvae feeds on Plumbago and plants from the legume family. Adults are on the wing year-round, though much more numerous in the warmer months. Their complete life-cycle spans about 2 months.