“Mpumalanga is a treasure chest for a butterfly enthusiast, an untapped source of new findings”, Herbert enthuses. “It has the perfect climate and the ideal range of ecosystems for butterflies to flourish” and flourish is exactly what they appear to be doing. In his recently released book ‘Butterflies of the Kruger National Park and Surrounds’ Herbert has identified 277 species of butterfly and estimates the number for Mpumalanga to be nearer 350!
So what makes the province a butterfly paradise? It is the patchwork of different habitats found here, especially along the Wild Frontier Route. The high altitude escarpment, low lying valley’s, savannah grasslands, indigenous forests, riverine systems and even the agricultural lands all provide distinctly different habitats for different species of butterflies.
As a result, “you get species here that were initially only thought to occur in KwaZulu Natal, like the False Wanderer found near Malelane and the Blue Spotted Charaxes that has been seen near Kaapmuiden. But what is really special is there are also some butterflies that can be found nowhere else in the world but here”.
Blue Spottted Butterfly
‘Swanepoel’s Blue’, ‘Jeffery’s Blue’ and ‘Barbara’s Copper’ are three such butterflies. They are so rare that they currently have only been found on one small nature reserve in the Barberton Mountains. The actual location is a closely guarded secret, as conservationists worry that they could be at risk if their whereabouts is released!
Swanepoel Blue / Blue Bottom Side / Barbera Copper
What makes this tiny corner of the Barberton Mountains so special? It has remained pristine, untouched by human influence. This has ensured the presence of larval host plants, or LHPs as Herbert calls them. These are where the females lay their eggs, so play an essential role in the butterfly’s life cycle. While some species of butterfly, like the Sooty Blue, have several LHPs others are totally reliant on one. “Part of the reason the Jeffery’s Blue is so rare is that it not only relies on one specific LHP, but it also requires a specific species of sugar ant to visit that LHP. Finding an environment where you get both of these occurring together is what makes it so rare and if you lose either of these, then you lose the Jeffery’s Blue”.
Scotty Blue Underside
The reliance butterflies have on other species makes them important indicator of ecosystem health, “you can tell a lot about the health of an ecosystem by the butterfly population found there. If a species declines then warning bells should start going off!” Going on the number of butterflies found across Mpumalanga it appears our protected areas are indeed very healthy.
So when you drive, hike or cycle through Mpumalanga and a butterfly crosses your path take a moment to appreciate it and the unique environment that supports it. Who knows it might even be one of the very rare ones!
Herbert’s Top Butterfly Spotting Tips
· Best time of the year to spot butterflies is between March and April.
· Best time of the day to spot butterflies is during the warmer parts of the day in winter and around 9am and 3pm in summer.
· Best place to spot butterflies are along forest paths or streams as butterflies seem to congregate around water.
· Top butterfly destinations include: Kruger National Park, the many nature reserves of the Genesis Route and along Wild Frontier Route and Chrissimeer.· Remember not all butterflies are big and bright. Over ½ of South Africa’s butterfly population belongs to the ‘Blue’
· Herbert’s Book: Butterflies of the Kruger National Park and Surrounds is available as an e-book from RandomHouseStruik and Kalahari.