Swarms of white butterflies
have descended on Johannesburg during their annual migration from South
Africa's west coast to Madagascar, according to lepidopterist Earle Whiteley.
According to Whiteley, a director of
Conservation of Butterflies in SA, the spectacle is an annual event,
but that the clouds of Belenois aurota, commonly known as brown veined white
butterflies, do not always follow exactly the same route.
"They start hatching
along the entire coast from Cape Town towards Namibia, then migrate inland in a
The cycle of life
Whiteley says that the
initial batch of butterflies are joined by more and more along their migratory
route, over the Eastern Cape, before reaching Gauteng.
The butterflies then
head toward Mozambique before crossing the sea to Madagascar.
"As they are going
further north, some die and more join. Eventually, there are massive clouds of
butterflies, reaching up to a kilometre into the air."
Along the route, the female
butterflies lay eggs, which begin the life cycle of the next generation.
Migration dependent on weather
The timing of the migration is dependent on weather conditions, but usually runs from late November to
mid-February. The brown veined white butterflies are often joined by other
butterflies of the same Pieridae family, which have shades of yellow or orange
in their colouration.
The butterflies travel
from sunrise to dusk and need to replenish themselves with nectar every 20
minutes or risk dying from dehydration. They favour long grass and are
particularly attracted to grass nectar, Whiteley says.
The butterflies roost
overnight, and it is possible to tell whether a butterfly is awake or asleep
by looking at their feelers.
"If the feelers are
touching, then they are sleeping."
Whiteley is working
towards establishing the Gauteng Butterfly Sanctuary, which is expected to open
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