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Butterflies as a source of tourism on a wildlife ranch

11 November 2015

 

www.leopard.tvThe are many interest groups whose members focus on specific aspects of the natural world. These people are usually willing to invest a substantial amount of time and money in pursuing their interest and can be an alternative source of income on wildlife ranches that contain exceptional or rare examples when such people are specifically targeted and catered for as tourists. Some of the more common groups are interested in fossils, geology, birds, reptiles, frogs and toads, mammals – such as the Big Eight of Tourism, moths, butterflies, trees, wildflowers, succulents and fynbos plants.

Moths and butterflies are members of the Order Lepidotera of the Class Mammalia. They are all insects with membranous wings which are covered with dustlike, microscopic, overlapping scales. The name Lepidotera is therefore derived from the ancient Greek words lepides which means a scale and pteron which means a wing. There are some 20 000 types of butterfly known in the World, most of them from the tropical regions, of which 666 occur in South Africa. Of these 666 types, at least 216 (some 33 per cent) are highly localized because they require a specific habitat and environment. The Order Lepidoptera contains 10 different families, each with several subfamilies and a multitude of species.

Butterflies are ancient insects that most probably once also fluttered around the dinosaurs. They are excellent indicators of the quality of an environment because they are sensitive to environmental changes, but especially to the presence of toxic substances. Because they are often limited to a specific food source, they also often have a limited and specific geographical distribution. Hence the presence of a rare type of butterfly is a major, but often underurilized, resource on a wildlife ranch.

www.leopard.tvButterflies develop in four phases of metamorphism: egg, caterpillar, pupa and the adult butterfly. The caterpillars usually, but not exclusively, feed on plant matter such as leaves, seeds or flower buds and their diet can be limited to one specific type of plant. This limited diet makes the caterpillars vulnerable to the destruction of their habitat, influences the geographical distribution of some types of butterfly and make them extremely rare. Some of the caterpillars, however, also feed on other types of organic material. The caterplilars moult several times while they grow and eventually form a pupa in a pupa cover or a cocoon of silk. The adult butterfly usually emerges when the environment is optimal for survival due to an abundance of suitable food resources. Soon after emerging, the heart pumps blood into the veins of the wings. This causes the wings to stretch and harden to allow flight.

Not all the butterflies feed, but those that do feed have a high enery requirement and this is why they feed on food which is high in sugar content. This type of food usually includes nectar, fermenting fruits, the sap of trees and shrubs, and the dew of plant lice and scale insects. Other butterflies feed on the fluids of rotting carcases – some only on rotting shrimps and prawns. Butterflies also feed on the dung of mammals and droppings of birds, with a preference for the dung of cats. This creates an unexpected relationship with leopards. Butterflies have to drink water during hot weather and will then often congregate in swarms on the banks and shores of rivers and dams. They also utilize the minerals in pools of the urine of mammals. Suitable drinking and feeding sites on a wildlife ranch can be supplied with fermenting fruit for butterflies.

Butterflies attract predators such as chameleons, birds and small mammals, but they have few physical characteristics to allow them to escape from these predators, although the larger types of butterfly can fly faster than swallows and swifts. Most butterflies depend on cryptic colouration, mimicry or camouflage to escape the attention of predators. Some types of butterfly mimic their habitat and the colour patterns of other butterflies so well that they become virtually invisible. Others mimic dead leaves or inedible material such as bird droppings, while still others have large, false eye spots. Some have these eye spots on the wings to divert a predator´s attention away from the head of the butterfly, and when such a butterfly opens its wings suddenly to display these prominent "eyes" it deters a predator from attacking it. However, should the predator continue with an attack and it confuses the eye spots with the head then a butterfly may lose part of its tail but it will still survive and escape.

Although butterflies do not have stings, several types are unpalatable or toxic when they are in the caterpillar or adult phase. These characteristics are reflected in the colour patterns and it also deters predators. The caterpillars and adults become toxic by feeding on toxic plants. Nevertheless, there are as many palatable as unpalatable types of butterfly. Some types of edible butterfly mimic an inedible one, while some inedible types also mimic each other.

Butterflies are able to discern colour and they use colour patterns to choose partners for mating. Some of the males secrete pheromones to attract the females. Copulation only follows an intricate mating dance. At the time of mating, a pair may fly as a unit while copulating. The sperm cells are then transferred to the female who carries it to a suitable feeding plant alone or in a group to fertilize the eggs that have been laid on the plant.

The rarest type of butterfly in the World is the Palo Verde Blue Glauropsyche lygadamus paloverdensis which only occurs in a single, small locality near Palo Verde south-west of Los Angeles in the USA. However, there are numerous rare types of butterfly in South Africa, which includes the following: Jerine´s Widow Dingana jerinae of the southern, upper slopes of Kransberg, the Waterberg Copper Erikssonia acraeina which was initially found many years ago in a wild seringa Burkea africana habitat at Trichardt´s Pass in the Waterberg but was rediscovered recently in the Bataleur Nature Reserve 25 km north-west of Bela Bela, the Kammanassie Widow Serradinga kammanassiensis on the Kammanassie Mountains at Uniondale, Stoffberg´s Widow Dingana fraterna from a single locality south-west of Stoffberg in Protea veld, Dingaan´s Widow Dingana dingana of the Drakensberg foothills, the Camdebo Brown Cassionympha camdeboo in the Nama-Karoo on the Camdebo Mountains near Aberdeen, the Golden Gate Brown Pseudonympha paragaika on the sandstone cliffs of the Golden Gate National Park, the Induna acraea Hyalites induna salmontana of the upper ridges of the Soutpansberg, the Wolkberg Zulu Alaena margaritacea at Haenertsburg in the grasslands of the Wolkberg, Pringle´s Copper Aloeides pringlei from a few localities in the grasslands of the Big Winterberg, the Cederberg Copper Aloeides monticola on the fynbos slopes of the Cederberg, Barbara´s Copper Aloeides barbarae in the grassland on a single hilltop near Barberton, Dickson´s Strandveld Copper Chrysoritis dicksoni in one locality at Witsand, the Heidelberg Copper Chrysoritis aureus in montane grassland in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve near Heidelberg (Gauteng), Riley´s Copper Chrysoritis rileyi on the eastern shore of the Brandvlei Dam in the Succulent Karoo, Victor´s Blue Lepidochrysops victori in grassland at four localities on the upper slopes of the Big Winterberg near Bedford, Rossouw´s Blue Lepidochrysops rossouwi in the grasslands of the escarpment near Stoffberg, the Brenton Blue Orachrysops niobe in fynbos at Brenton-on-Sea and the Karkloof Blue Orachrysops ariadne at a few localities near Midmar Dam and above te Karkloof Waterfall.

On a regional basis, the Western Cape has at least 71 types of rare butterfly partly because of their preference for a fynbos habitat. Because butterflies prefer tropical regions, KwaZulu-Natal has at least 40 rare types of butterfly and Limpopo 31, with 25 in the Eastern Cape, 24 in the Northern Cape, 18 in Mpumalanga, five in the Free State and one each in North West and Gauteng.

In the Waterberg region there especailly are four types of rare butterfly. They are Jerine´s Widow Dingana jerinae on the southern, upper slopes of Kransberg, the Waterberg Copper Erikssonia acraeina which at present is only known from one locality, the Big-eye Brown Paternympha loxophtalma of Strydpoortberg, Wolkberg and Waterberg, and the Secucuni Shadefly Coenyera rufliplaga which also occurs more north in Limpopo. However, there are numeous other types of rare butterfly in South Africa and interested wildlife ranchers should consult the book of Steve Woodhill which is listed below to determine what types they may possibly have. These butterflies often only occur in small patches of land consisting of a few hectares. By creating or protecting a limited habitat, wildlife ranchers can utilize or develop these butterflies as an alternative resource for tourism and income.

 

References:

Anon 2004. Butterfly fossils. www.crystalinks.com/fossilbutterfly.html

Anon 2011. Top 10 rarest butterflies in the world. http://hubpages.com/education/Rare-Animals-Top-10-Rarest-Butterflies-in-the-World

Anon 2013. Butterfly evolution www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_evolution

Woodhall, S 2005. Field guide to butterflies of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

 

article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

 

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