Chrysoritis orientalis, the Eastern Opal, a beautiful and rare insect from the Southern Drakensberg.
I first heard of Chrysoritis orientalis many years ago when I first became interested in butterflies. My friend, Harald Selb, spoke of the Opals as if they were at the top of the butterfly chain of beauty. I would argue that he is not far wrong. I would have to wait a while before being introduced to this beautiful family of butterflies, a genus fairly common in the Cape but less so up here.
Anyway, the insect under consideration was discovered by Swanepoel in the Bushmans Nek area of the Southern Drakensberg in 1975. My first trip after the insect was in December 1992 when I made the trip up the the colony with Clive Quickleberge and Harald Selb. Despite finding interesting insects such as Neita lotenia and Seradinga clarki we did not meet the beautiful opal.
Over the years I made a number of trips up with my, then to be, wife, Tracey on these trips I collected a few specimens. Later, in 1996 I climbed the hill with Alan Heath and Tracey and I found larvae of the insect and we were able to identify the ants associated with it as well as the food plant. I also had the unique privilege of thing the first person to see one of these insects emerge from its pupa.
Since the collecting trip with Alan I have wanted to photograph the butterfly. A trip up with Clive Curtis in Dec 2013 resulted in our seeing one tattered female. This year we hoped would be different. Clive wanted stock video footage of the insect and I was after images of the insect. We planned a trip up in early November, it was very dry but the area had seen snow recently and we hope that this moisture might wake everything up.
The area is prone to thunder storm activity from mid day so we decided to meet in Howick at 05h30 and get up the hill as early as possible. We got to the Bushmans Nek Hotel just after seven and were at the colony at half past eight. On the way up I received a text message from Steve Woodhall asking for male upperside images for his upcoming e-book. We checked all the ridges and came across Aloeides penningtoni in a number of spots.
Aloeides penningtoni (Clive Curtis)
While at one of these spots filming and photo the A penningtoni we were treated by the appearance of a pair of the rare Bearded Vulture that flew low over us, I suspect two blokes lying on the ground might look very appetizing to these birds. This was a real treat.
The Breaded Vulture (Clive Curtis)
On arriving at the colony we began searching for the insect. Within minutes we had the first sighting and the fun began. The colony was in full flight. We spend the next three hours filming and photographing the butterflies. Here are some images.
Male C orientalis upperside (for Steve W)
The view from the colony looking South.
A very successful day was had by both Clive and I, the sore! Tired legs were worth it!
The slipper orchids are very interesting plants. Real oddities with lower petals being fused to form the “slipper”. I have a number of slippers and currently have Paphiopedilum Leeanum in flower ( this hybrid is an old cross between Paphiopedilum insigne and Paphiopedilum spiceranum). P Leeanum is easy to grow and this really is a grea hybrid to grow.
This plant is young with only one flower but more mature plants might see up to ten flowers on a plant.
Anyway, no more other than the 100mm f2.8 diaphragm died and somthese were taken with a non L zoom lens. All are four or five stack images combined in Zerene Stacker.
I have to say that I have been silent for an embarrassing period. There is no excuse. Anyway, this Christmas we all headed off to the Drakensberg (Bushmansneck) for a five day break at the beautiful Farraway Farm. The insect life was shocking but the biking and other photography superb. Here are just a few images from the trip to get things going again for this year
I have, for a while now, been photographing butterfly eggs with my MPE 65. The most recent egg that I have done is that of the Banana nightfighter, Moltena fiara. This egg was found on the leaf of the host plant, Striletzia nicholai, here in my Wembley garden. It never ceases to amaze me how beautifully structural these eggs are with the ribbing to add support and allow a thinner wall.
These next two portraits of a fly and an antlion were great fund to do, just battled with the DOF.
Finally, a while back I noticed this mint Colotes annae annae (Scarlet Tip) male in the garden. I never thought that I would see one here as this is a bushveld bug but here it is feeding on my Pentis!
This last weekend my friend Clive Curtis and I spent some time at Wahroonga, a special piece of grasslands between Howick and Boston in the KZN Midlands. Our hope was to film species such as Lepidochrysops pephredo (the Mooi River Blue), L tantalus (the tantalising blue), Aloeides susanae (Susans copper) and Orachrysops subravus (The Grizzled Blue). We got to the farm at around 09h30 in the morning and there was a load of activity with specimens of O subravus and A susanae a plenty, the latter being hard to photograph as they rarely settle. Anyway, after a few hours we had the last two on the list ticked off, along with Leptomyrina gorgias (the common blackeye) and some eggs. We missed the first two on the list.
Anyway, here are some photographs of the insects and eggs. The eggs were taken with the MPE 65 at maximum zoom (5x) with very little DOF so I stacked three images in each using Zerene Stacker.
The first series were takes with the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM with the 430 EX Speedlight
Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female
Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female
Aloeides susanae, Susans Copper, female
Leptomyrina gorgias, the Common Blackeye, female.
Orachrysops subravus egg, stack of three images usinfg Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x
Leptomyrina gorgias egg, stack of three images using Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x
Charaxes candiope candiope, the Green-veined Charaxes, is a common visitor to gardens here on the East coast of South Africa. I planted the foodplant, Croton sylvaticus, in my garden five years ago. The two that I planted have struggled due to the winter frosts. While living on Botswana I noted them laying on another species of Croton. Anyway, I have seen the butterfly breed successfully on my trees for the last three years and finally decided to photograph it this year.
In March this year I found a number of eggs on may trees. I gave a number to my friends, Stephen Woodhall and Harald Selb, and then bred the balance though.
The eggs are laid as singletons (very occattionally two) on the upper side of the large Croton leaf. They are approximately 2mm in diameter and butter yellow on being laid.
After about 24 hours the egg gets the typical brown ring showing that it is fertile.
After about five days the first instar larva emerges. The first meal is the egg shell. This little chap is about three mm long on emergence.
After four days the larva has its first skin shed. The second instar larva has the first dorsal spot.
After a further six days the next shed takes place. At the shed the larva measures about 14 mm long. After the shed the larva has two dorsal spots and a rather fantastic head shield. The next blog I post will be the head shields of this insect (which are spectacular).
After a further seven days the larva sheds again to become the spectacular fourth instar larva. Watch the next blog for head shield shots, this one is superb.
Again it only takes a week for the fourth instar larva to fatten up and shed its skin. The larva is about 35mm long at the shed. The fifth instar is large, after 14 to 21 days of eating it reaches 50 to 60 mm in length and gets ready to pupate.
The larva finds a quite spot and spins a silk pad, hooks in (with anal hooks) and begins the pupation process. This lasts three of four days afterwhich it sheds its skin and pupates.
The pupa, the incredible stage preceding the butterfly.
After three weeks the pupa begins to “colour up”, the stage when you can see the wing and body colouring appeat through the pupa. Withing 12 hours it emerges. The insect below is a female. The males below.
Male Ch candiope candiope.
Please watch this blog for the post of head shields, they are spectacular.
Three weeks ago Steve Woohall, Chairman of the Lepidopterists Society of Africa (www.lepsoc.org.za), organised a day trip to the Kranskloof Nature Reserve in Durban. He invited me along. I have to say that I have always been someone who would rather fly solo, I love being around people but when it comes to working on butterflies I prefer to work alone. I agreed to attend. I got to Kranskloof early and, on arriving at the car park, noticed that there were a load of folks there already. I recognised a few people (some work colleagues, others butterfly mates) and started chatting with them and new folks. I met Ryan Edwards, one of our environmental lads who had recently moved to our PMB office and is a very keen and talented photographer, Kevin Cockburn, Greytown based Lepsoc seniority very keen and knowledgable butterflier and super bloke to spend “bush time” with, Rob Dickinson, a very interesting and interested bloke who travels Africa in his professional capacity and has a very keen interest in all things small (have to add great company and no slouch with the camera!!), Steve Woodhall, “nuff said”, and a large group of interested and interesting people.
I made it known that I had little time on the day (as I had to study etc) and Steve graciously suggested that I walk ahead and do what I had to. We all drove to a lower car park and while waiting Rob D suggested that he and I move down to a nearby stream to look for damselflies. He noted that he has done very well there recently. If he had done better than we did in the 10 minuted that we were there then well done Rob. It was very rewarding with many damselflies being photographed.
After a brief period photographing the damsels we had to move off to the real focus, Charaxes karkloof karkloof, the Karkloof Charaxes. My old mate Wolter Kaspers had found them in the area 20 years ago and I had found them there regularly, most recently two years ago with Steve and Co.
This first part of the blog covers the walk to the Ch karkloof spot. The walk is short and very quick through typical coastal bush. Here are a few butterfly photos………
Pseudagrion hageni, Hagens Sprite. Photographed with Rob Dickinson at the Kranskloof Nature Reserve.
Chilades trochylus, the Grass Jewel, a very pretty little Lyceanid.
Hypolyceana philippus philippus, the Purple-brown Hairstreak. Rather lovely!
Euchrysops barkeri, Barkers Smokey Blue.
Colotes erone, The Coastal Purple Tip, Male. This has to be one of my favourite “Tips”
Colotes erone, The Coastal Purple Tip, female, feeding on Leonotis sp
Colotes erone, The Coastal Purple Tip, female
The next part………………part 2 covering larvae, Charaxes and things will be posted shortly.