BUTTERFLIES
 

The Midlands of Kwazulu-Natal are home to some very special butterflies. The area has a mosaic of montane grasslands and forests. The forests are typical of afrotemperate regions from the Western Cape to Ethiopia, and a similar group butterfly species tend to be found in them. Such forests are, however, small in area and total extent in SA is only a few hundred thousand hectares.

The Midlands are home to some of the largest patches in SA, and are particularly butterfly-rich. A walk along a forest path, or a lunchtime spent on a forest-surrounded hilltop, can give you sightings of some of SA's least often seen and most beautiful forest butterflies, such as Kite Swallowtail Papilio euphranor and Golden Flash Chrysoritis phosphor.  At the right time of year – October to November, and February to April, butterfly numbers in these forests can be large.

The Midlands' grasslands also hold really rare and unique butterflies. South Africa's grasslands are second only to the fynbos in numbers of rare endemic species, and those of the Drakensberg foothills, up into the escarpments near the Tugela Valley, are particularly special. In springtime, the veld lights up brilliant green with innumerable flowers. Among these, you can see the Ant Blues of the genus Lepidochrysops, whose caterpillars live inside ants' nests where they prey on the brood.

Or, the brilliant Mooi River Opal, Chrysoritis lycegenes, whose caterpillars feed on plants but shelter inside ants' nests.

In late summer and autumn, two butterflies unique to the Midlands may be seen. The Natal Rocksitter, Durbania limbata, is found in scattered colonies near suitable sandstone rocks, on which the lichens grow that its caterpillars eat.

And, in only a few special, secret localities, the Karkloof Blue, Orachrysops ariadne flies from late March to May. Another ant-associated blue, its red list status is Endangered. Long may its glorious haunts survive.

© Steve Woodhall 2014

For additional information please visit the Lepidopterist Society of SA by clicking here.