Life on the other end of the food chain
Butterflies are one of those creatures that really don't get enough attention. We are aware of them, but seldom really look at their true beauty or take much notice of their presence – almost taking them for granted.
In truth, by the time we get to see the average butterfly flitting about in the bush, it has already survived numerous attempts on its life, and can look forward to even more. Being a butterfly is risky business.
All butterflies develop from caterpillars, which are first choice on the menu for all insectivorous birds, but their trauma begins long before they even get to munch on their first leaf.
Even butterfly eggs are never safe. There are numerous species of wasp which lay their own eggs within the butterfly egg, or in the emerging larvae so that their larvae may feed on the butterfly larvae.
Butterflies lay their eggs on a plant suitable for the nourishment of their newly hatched caterpillar larvae, and these are usually camouflaged to resemble the host plant in order to avoid detection by predators.
If a caterpillar manages to hatch, it faces an onslaught of fungi, bacteria, and parasites, which are out to get it. After surviving several moultings, the caterpillar encloses itself in a pupa, also disguised as a piece of plant matter, so that birds and other predators may overlook them.
Some caterpillars complete their transformation into a beautiful butterfly in a matter of days, while some take months. After all that, they can look forward to a lifespan lasting from 2 weeks to 18 months, depending on their species – and their luck! Vehicles, humans, birds, reptiles and other insects all pose a danger to butterflies.
Butterflies continue their life of deception during adulthood; some have extra tails on their wings, which can fool birds into aiming for the wrong end when attacking – leaving the butterfly with damaged wings but otherwise intact.
From all this, it is evident that butterflies play a large role in providing sustenance for many other species, and we are all familiar with their role in pollinating flowering plants, making them an important part of the ecosystem.
Of course, they also make a charming, pretty addition to any scene as they flit about from flower to flower, or pause, with their wings flapping gracefully.
The most commonly spotted butterflies in the bushveld include orange and lemon, African migrant, scarlet tip, striped policeman, common blue, citrus swallowtail and the banded gold tip.