Another rare butterfly, Orachrysops (Butler) The Karkloof Blue
This last weekend was spent in Durban having end of year functions etc so I was unable to get anything new. I thought therefore that I would post on a very beautiful butterfly found in the Midlands. Orachrysops ariadne, discovered on the farm The Start in the Karkloof at the end of the 19th century and named after a beautiful Greek Goddess, the butterfly has always been the centre of local butterfly legend. A member of the Lycaenidae (blues), it is classified as Rare, only occuring in two spots in the Midlands and one slightly further where it has not been seen recently due to uncontrolled grasing in the habitat. It is a strange insect, unlike its relatives who are seen in spring thes butterfly emerges at the end of the South African summer. This, I think, is one of the reasons that it was not seen very often as most butterfly people never went looking for (blues) in late summer. About 15 years ago a I was collecting butterflies for breeding near Balgowan in KwaZulu-Natal when I met a young school boy who wanted to see Lyceaninds, in particular Lepidochrysops. I told him to visit Waroonga Farm. It was March and thinking that he knew that the “blues” only flew in Spring did not tell him when to go. He contacted me a week later to tell me that he had caught Orachrysops ariadne! I could not belive this, went to see and he had. Local Lepidopterists had visited that spot for years but never in late Summer. He had discovered the second viable colony in the area.
The butterfly is a small (approx 15mm, male, anf 18mm, female). The male has a beautiful blue upperside while the female has a brown upperside with reduced blue areas. The larvae feed on Indigofera woodii and have a symbiotic relationship with a species of ant.
The main threat to the continued survival of this insect is habitat distruction, one of the local colonies disapeared in the 1950’s due to agriculatural activities and this seems also to have been the fate of the nothern Nkandla colony. The type locality at The Start is threatened by invasive plants. The Waroonga colony appears to the safe and stable.
In March of this year, Clive Curtis, my daughter Isabelle and I went to “The Start” to photograph the insect. We got to the site at 08h30 in the morning and before long they were on the wing. I was able to get a number of photographs of both males and females. To anyone visiting the site, be warned, it is rocky, has long grass (up to 180cm in paces although mostly chest high) and is steep so dashing around with camera can be rather interesting!!
The beautiful butterfly is the emblem of the Midlands Meander (www.midlandsmeander.co.za) All the photographs below were taken at the Type locality of The Start in the Karkloof in March.