Butterflies at a glance
|Occupation:||Pollinators & Pests|
|Value to Gardener:||2/5 – Mostly pest species, specialist pollinators|
|Danger to Humans:||1/5 – Harmless|
|Availability:||5/5 – They’ll arrive|
Most of us find great joy in watching one of these little fluttering beauties pass us by on their way to some sweet coloured delicacy. However, most of the butterfly’s lifetime is spent as a caterpillar, which can become destructive when their hosts plants include edible crops and precious garden ornamentals. We do not have colonies of butterflies in the area and few are of high aesthetic value, but over the years we have amassed quite a photo collection of our local bushveld lovelies.
Butterflies belong to the insect order of Lepidoptera, which includes moths. They can range from 3 – 200 mm in size. Butterflies are distinguished from moths by their elongated antennae, 2 pairs of membranous wings held vertical, their larval stages are not protected with a silk cocoon and nearly all are diurnal. Similar to moths, both their bodies and wings are covered in scales and they have a siphoning proboscis (mouthpart).
The structure and arrangement of scales on the body and wings give butterflies their colourful markings. Black and brown are produced by pigments, such as melanin, and yellows are derived from uric acids and flavones obtained from their diets. Light play and reflections created by the micro-structure of scales and hairs produce red, green, blue and iridescent colours.
Habitat & Diet
Generalists have a cosmopolitan distribution and are found in any environment boasting plants and flowers as food for caterpillars and adults, respectively. Some species are specialists that only feed on a select handful of hosts or one plant species. Most have a large habitat range, whereas some species are only found in certain biomes or areas.
I have several photographs of some of the flutterlings in our area:
Family Nymphalidae; are brightly coloured with reduced forelegs giving them a four-legged appearance.
- A: Dancing Acraea (Telchinia serena or Hyalites eponina)
- B: Garden acaraea (Acaraea horta, larvae potential pest of granadilla)
- C: Garden Inspector (Junonia octavia, wet and dry season variants)
- D: Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta, males are territorial)
- E: Eyed Pansy (Junonia orithya madagascariensis, widespread but uncommon)
- F: Diadem (Hypolimnas misioous, females mimic African monarchs)
- G: Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui, common widespread species)
- H: Spotted Joker (Byblia ilythia, attracted to rotten fruit)
- I: Forest Leopard (Phalanta eurytis, restricted to heavy woodland)
Family Hesperiidae; are small stocky and unassuming butterflies with a quick darting flight. The clubs of their antennae are hooked backwards.
- A: Hottentot Skipper (Gegenes niso, fond of muddy places)
Family Lycaenidae; are small and brightly coloured with iridescent blues, purples and coppers. Many have eyespots and tail appendages on their wings resembling antennae.
- B: Common Zebra Blue (Leptotes pirithous, attracted to mud)
- C: Topaz Babul Blue (Azanus jesous, larvae feed on Acacia species)
- D: Common Scarlet (Axiocerses tjoane, larvae feed on Acacia species)
Family Papilionidae; are large and brightly coloured with eyespots on wings. Caterpillar taste and smell foul due to their brightly coloured, forked defense organ (osmeterium).
- A: Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus, pest species of citrus and curry tree)
- B: Common Dotted Border (Mylothris agathina, gregarious feeder)
- C: Twin Dotted Border (Mylothris rueppellii haemus, larvae feed on mistletoe)
Famliy Peiridae; are mostly white, yellow and orange. Some are serious pest species.
- A: Brown Veined White (Belenois aurota, seasonal migrant, see Post)
- B: Angled Grass Yellow (Eurema desjardinsii marshalli, attracted to damp sand)
- C: African Migrant (Catopsilia florella, sporadic migration from Botswana to Northern South Africa)
- D: Forest White (Belenois zochalia, roost communally at night)
Butterflies in the vegetable garden
From personal observation I have found that butterflies prefer different flowers to most insects. The basil is usually a hub of insect activity, but the majority of pollinators there are bee and fly species. I have noticed on several occasions some moth visitors and medium sized butterflies, but I have seen them more often visit smaller tubed flowers and large open flowers. For example, small tubular flowers will include statice (Limonium latifolium), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii, as well as our indigenous species – there are 7 in SA, such as Buddleja auriculata) and garden heloitrope (Heliotropium arborescens) and alfalfa flowers (Medicago sativa). The little blues are very fond of the minute yellow flowers of the wild clover (Lesser hop trefoil, Trifolium dubium). Large and open flowers would include those of the daisy family, such as black jacks (yes! they love these awful weeds!) as well as pompoms and cosmos. In general butterflies can see red as a separate colour but are also attracted to blue (Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis and Lavender, Lavendula aungustifolia) and yellow flowers (Sunflower, Helianthus annuus). You can also have a look at my Insectary post for more ideas!
We have an endemic butterfly in Roodepoort!
In 1985, the Ruimsig Entomological Reserve in Roodepoort close to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden was established to preserve the Roodepoort Copper (Aloeides dentatis) (Ref 1 and 2). This was due to the fact that the Roodepoort Copper has a symbiotic relationship with an Acantholepis ant species and the presence of its larval host plant, Hermannia depressa (Ref 2 and 3). A singular article about the reserve exists here (Ref 3, GSNDEV ).