A blog about what I love….photography and bicycles!

south african butterflies

A day in the mountains with rare Southern African Butterflies

I have had a very long relationship with Chrysoritis oreas, a lovely little copper butterfly found tin top of Bulwer Mountain in the Southern Natal Drakensberg.  Discovered by Pennington on the Loteni area in the early 1900’s not much was known about this insect until the mid 1980s when Wolter Kaspers and Clive Quickleberge were on Bulwer Mountain and Wolter netted a rather worn copper.  This turned out to be C oreas at a new locality.  Since then many people have ventured up this beautiful, steep mountain.  My first trip up was in October 1993, the day that I met my wife (on the way back to Durban I stopped at Monteseel and met her!).  I climbed the mountain in October 1996 with Alan Heath and Tony Brinkman.  It was on this trip that Alan discovered the ant and food plant used by the butterfly, got it to lay and bred it through for the first time.  Later, in 2005 I climbed the hill with Steve Woodhall and we had a wonderful day photographing the butterfly.

My friend, Clive Curtis, is currently completing a DVD on Butterflies and requires more footage of rarities.  Last November we got great footage and photographs of the equally rare Chrysoritis orientalis at Bushmans Neck and since then we made plans to climb Bulwer.  The window period to see this insect is narrow, early October is the best and we were fortunate to find a weekend immediately after his return from safari in the Kalahari and before his son, Connor, was born.

We left not feeling too confident, the weather was not good, there was a lot of cloud and a very strong wind, however we decided to have a crack.  Luckily the closer we got to Bulwer the clouds began to clear and it looked like the colony might well be sheltered from the wind.

The drive up the hill was as rough as I remembered it.  We got to where the paragliders launch and then walked.  As we got out of the truck this is what greeted us…..14516447_10209423686862119_8526991535135094695_n

I find it easier walking with people who do not spend 14 hours a day tracking elephant and lion in the Kalahari sands and so I spent a lot of time “admiring” the various Moraea and other wild flowers on the way up.  On getting to the false summit I pointed out the colony to Clive, that being the little rock area in the centre of the photograph…..14641926_10209423935148326_1162358604111145167_n

We walked down to the lower part of the colony and immediately started seeing the little insects flying around.  Mostly confined to the lower rocky area they were fairly common.  Last time I was up with Steve we really battled to find specimens however this time they were not plentiful but they were there. Here are some images….. the first, the underside of a loverly fresh male…._V4A1195.jpg

Then the upperside of a male feeding….

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Then a female feeding…..

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And another female just chilling….

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And yet another…

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Higher up the slopes we came across Chrysorotis lycegenes, another beautiful opal….._v4a1237

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and Aloeides oreas…._v4a1229

and finally, a few candid shots of what we do……14492572_10209423935508335_6519075386448159188_n_v4a1242

we walked off the mountain very satisfied.  I had more photographs,Clive had photographs and video and I learned that a Canon 100 f2.8 lens requires stabilisation when shooting video!! Another great trip, thanks Clive and congratulations to you, Tarryn and Hannah on the arrival of Connor.


The Cape a Trip…..part 1

This Easter we decided to go road tripping. Our eldest daughter, Isabelle, decided to ride from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg with her school adventure team and we decided to follow her. We left a week after she did, they had a few days off before starting and visited Table Mountain and Robben Island before starting the long ride to Pmb. We left and travelled via Richmond, a small town in the Northern Cape. We spent three days in Cape Town, the first was lovely and ended with. Walk up Constantia Neck. A steep walk and quite a tough decent. Anyway, I found. Few lovely insects going up and here they are….

Aloeides thyra 

   
Lampides boutiques, mating pair 

 Dira clytus, the Autumn Brown. These were flying from Cape Town to Hogsback 

 


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) 

 
Male underside 

 
Female underside 

 
Myself photographing the insects (Clive Curtis) 

 
Clive wondering around with video gear searching for more insects to film  

 

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!


This weekends macro work

There is no theme for this weeks blog as I simply had a go at a few opportunistic subjects.

I have been working on photographing the life history of a butterfly called Charaxes varanes (if you follow this blog you will see the imagine in the next six weeks). I have always been fascinated by the head shields of the Charaxinae butterflies and they make fantastic subjects for portraits.  A few years ago I bred a number of local Charaxes butterflies and got the entire life history on camera. Ch varanes is a common insect and I have bred it a number of times however never had the chance to catch the hole thing on film.  The third and fourth instar head shields are spectacular. Here is the third instar portrait. 


The second image that I worked on this weekend is that of a Stapeliad, S graduliflora. I blogged on these plants recently and discussed the fact that they attract flies to fertilize them (their foul smell attracts the flies, large flowers can be smelt from quite a distance, the smaller are inoffensive). This plant has never flowered for me. I received it from a friend who travelled to Springbok in the North Western Cape. This is a stack of 10 images stacked to obtain a greater DOF (using Zerene Stacker, Canon 100 f 2.8) 

  


Some interesting images!!

This last weekend has been wet and I have needed to get some work done on my butterfly talk. It is scheduled for next Saturday and I wanted to get some wing scale shots to include in the talk. I shot Junonia oryhthia madagascariensis, the Eyed Pansy, Junonia oenone oenone, the Blue Pansy and the Ioulaus sidas, the Saphire. The images were hard to get with the lighting being very tricky but I shot these few photos at between 3 and 5 x with the MPE 65.

The first photograph is of the wing of the Blue Pansy, J oenone oenone. Part of the blue flash is visible.

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This next one is a wing eye spot of the Eyed Pansy, J orythia madagascariensis. Again the scales are fascinating.

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Thid is the anal fold on the hind wing of Iolaus sidas, not the long hairlike scales near the fold.

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And to add a something a little different, a Salticid

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And a first instar (a few hours old) larva of Dannaus chryssippus, the Monarch. Notice the lumps on the first and fourth segments that will eventually become very elongated.

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An egg, some interesting portraits and a beautiful butterfly

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.

M fiara

These next two portraits of a fly and an antlion were great fund to do, just battled with the DOF.

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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!

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Recent close ups of butterfly larvae, adults and others!!

I have recently been breeding a number of butterflies and been able to either get macro images of the larvae or of the adult. This first photograph is of Charaxes candiope, the Green Veined Charaxes, third instar larva. The head shield is approximately 5mm accross. This was shot with the MPE 65 @ 2x

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These next two photographs are head shots of Junonia oenone, the Blue Pansy. I bred a number of these recently and was able to take a number of photographs of the head of the butterfly as this one was drying its wings. These two were taken with the MPE 65 3x

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This final photograh is a robber fly, not the classic full frontal that I wanted but still OK. This was also taken with the MP65 at 2x

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Damsels, flies and portraits

This Christmas holiday has been great fun chasing things and getting used to the MPE 65. I have always wanted to shoot those classic portraits of insects and finally for to this holiday. Here are three portraits and a less “macro” shot. Again these were all taken with the MPE 65 and MT24EX setup attached to the Canon.

The first photograph is a fly.
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Fly portrait
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Damsel portrait
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A second damsel portrait
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Some rather big Carpenter Bees and other stuff!!

This Christmas holiday has either been extremely wet or fiendishly hot and having just moved into our new house I have been unable to get into the field to photograph much. That said we have a new garden and I have been chasing all sorts of creatures around it.
The first, Xylocopa caffra, a fairly wide spread carpenter bee was a real challenge. They rarely sit and when that do are almost impossible to approach. These are large bees, approximately 45mm long, so the rig used was the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM and speelight set up that I usually use for field work.

The next series of photographs are of the egg and first instar larva of Junonia oenone, the Blue Pansy. The eggs were seen beeing laid on Asystasia gangetica. These photographs were taken with the MPE 65 and MT 24 EX set up. To gove an idea od scale the larva is 3,5mm long.

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Eggs and Architecture

As everyone knows, I am a butterfly person. In the last year I have been able to get upclose with the camera and been able to photograph the eggs of a number of species of butterfly. Here are a few of the more interesting eggs that I have photographed this year. What fascinates me, from an architectural and structural perspective, is the structure of the wall of the egg to support and strengthen the entire thin walled egg. Anyway, enough geek talk, here are the photographs,a few are re-posts but interesting nevertheless. Shot with the faithful MPE65 and MT24EX combo.

The first photograph is of Eretis umbra, the Small Marbled Elf, A rather drab little Hesperid.

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The next photograph is the egg of the Common Mother of Pearl, Salamis parhassus, a spectacular Nymphalid found in the area (and my garden)

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The third photograph is the egg of the Common Black-Eye, Leptomyrina gorgias a Lyceanid that breeds on a number of our Crassulas and other succelents.

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The last egg for the time being is that of Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzled Blue, another Lyceanid and cousin of two of our rarest butterflies O ariadne and O niobe.

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Back at last!!

After a rather hectis three weeks of packing, moving house, unpacking and trying to get all my butterfly collection, cycads and other plants safely into their new home I am finally able to post these images of a lynx spider and ant, the first crawlies found at my new house.  All shot with the MPE.  Nothing more now, I have an exam tomorrow but will post more little creatures from my garden soon…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Some more fun wih Spiders

I have recently been posting a lot of macro images taken with the MPE 65. I have always thought that the MPE would be a lens stuck away and used occasionally. I have however found that it spend a lot more time attached to the camera. It is not a field lens but is great fun under controlled conditions. This latest set of photographs was taken with the subject (a Salticid Spider) on a piece of paper and instead of the up close and personal photographs I tried a few full body shots. The attached were all taken at either 4x (portraits) or 1,5x (full bodies). All with the MPE and MT 24 EX flash system, minimal crop.

 

 


A weekend of blues and some macro geek stuff….

 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

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 Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female 

 

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 Orachrysops subravus, the Grizzles Blue, female  

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Aloeides susanae, Susans Copper, female 

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 Leptomyrina gorgias, the Common Blackeye, female.

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 Orachrysops subravus egg, stack of three images usinfg  Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x 

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  Leptomyrina gorgias egg, stack of three images using Zerene stacker. MPE 65 at 5x


Some more photographs of Smaller Things

Some more photographs of Smaller Things As you all know I have been trying to master the MPE 65 lens that Canon produce and have been using it along with the MT 24 EX light system. This lens can get amazingly close and the 1,5 to 2,5X range is wonderful for smaller ants and things giving you reasonable DOF and a full image. Last weekend I decided to have a go at some ants and ladybirds. I was successful with the first and will have to go back to the ladybirds. Anyway, here are two shots of an ant on paper. I was chuffed with them.

But before we carry on I need your votes, please see http://photo.getaway.co.za/2012/03/01/salticid-red/# and vote for the AFROmacro spider

Ant shot at 1.5 x MPE

Again at 1.5x and with the MPE

And now for a few hoverflies.  The first two were shot at 3x and the last at 1 x


Chasing bees with the new Canon MPE 65 Macro Lens

 

Since the purchase of the Canon MPE 65 and the twin flash set I have been having a lot of fun learning how to get the best out of the setup. Last weekend I chose to continue chasing bees.  Nice and big and interesting subjects.  I was able to get a few co-operative little fellows and here are the results.

One thing that you have to remember with this flash and lens setup is if there are deep backgrounds they will be black (no light) so choose the subject (and backdrop) carefully.

MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250)

MPE 65 2 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop (25% off)

MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop

MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop

MPE 65 1.5 x f 13 flash (1/250) 75% crop

 

 


The Kiln Gallery has a new Exhibitor

It has been a while since we had a new exhibitor at the Kiln.  Sarah van der Bank is not exhibiting at the Kiln building yet but her work is available on the Kiln FaceBook page and may be ordered directly from us.

Sarah is a born and raised Midlands lady. She grew up and was schooled right here in Howick and now lives in the Mkhuze Game reserve with her conservationist husband, Lance, and young son, Meryck.  Here is a taister of some of Sarah’s work. 

Like most of us at the Kiln, Sarah’s work may also be viewed and purchased through The PictureBox in Pietermaritzburg www.picturebox.co.za


A new series of Scarabs

I have, for a long while, been asked to photograph more Scarabs.  The problem has been finding specimens to photograph.  After much searching I found these.  This post is extremely short.  I just want feedback on the very simple “draft” photos of these four insects.  Please ignore the imperfections.

 Goliathus albosignathus, the Goliath Scarab.  One of the largest Scarab beetles on earth and found from Limpopo up into Central Africa.

Eudicella smithi, Smiths Scarab. Another interesting insect from Burundi, Central Africa.

Ranzania burtolinii, Burtolini’s Scarab, male from Tanzania, East Africa

Ranzania burtolinii, Burtolini’s Scarab, female, from Tanzania, East Africa.


A day in the Kranskloof Nature Reserve (Part 1)

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.


The miracle that is a butterfly….

 I have, over the last 20 years, bred many thousands of butterflies and am always blown away by the metamorphosis of lavae through pupa to butterfly.  I am currently breeding about 5 species.  A while ago I posted the life history of one of our Hairtails (Anthene).  Two days ago I discovered the larvae of our African Monarch, Danaus chrysippus aegyptius, feasting on my Stapeliads.  After a bit of a look I found a pupa colouring up.  I had great fun photographing the larvae, pupae and emerged adult.  So, not to bore you all with test, here are some of the photographs.

Final instar larva of Danaus chrysippus aegyptius (The Arfican Monarch) feasting on the leaves of Stapelia hirsuta, a carrion plant from the Eastern Cape.  The egg of this larva was laid, and initially fed on Adenium multiflorum (The Impala Lily) but went onto the Stapeliad when it has flattened the Adenium.  The larva is brightly coloured as a warning to birds that it is poisonous.

Pupa of D chrysippus aegyptius colouring up.  Note the wings, abdomen, eyes and antannae clearly visible.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius newly emerged from pupa.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius f. liboria, side view.

Male D chrysippus aegyptius f. liboria upper side.


The Kiln welcomes Rob Caskie

Talk PosterA month ago, well known story teller and historian Rob Caskie approached Fran and myself to use the Kiln to present talks.  We naturally thought that this was a great idea and Rob presented his first talk on Tuesday night.  The talk was on Rorkes Drift, one of the great Anglo Zulu battles and was a fantastic success.  Rob’s next talk is completely different and the focus is on the great continent of Antarctica.  The first quarter of the 1900’s saw great expeditions.  Some successful, others not.  Successful expeditions generally saw heros come home.  Unsuccessful ones saw heros remain entombed in the ice.  Very occationally you saw unsuccessful expeditions return home.  Rob’s next talk on Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton demonstrates this very well.  Scott raced Amundsen to the South Pole, Amundsen won, Scott remains there.  Shackleton was caught in the ice, his ship was crushed and his story is epic.  His entire crew rowed to Elephant Island afterwhich he took a small whaler and travelled to South Georgia.  He returned and rescued the entire crew from Elephant Island.  The trip has been recorded as a great feat of mountaineering, leadership at the highest level and the greatest exhibition of navigation skills ever.  The talk is on the 17th April 2012 at the Kiln.

I am not going to go through Rob’s resume again as he is very well known.  All I wish to add is that he has recently addressed the Royal Geographic Society and was flown to the continent of Antarctica to present the talk he will at the Kiln. 

Future talks include the battle if Isandlwana amd other great African stories….

And now a photo or two..

Rob and Fran at the Kiln.

Rob and Fran at the Kiln

Rob Caskie

Rob Caskie

Rob on the ice pack immediately prior to delivering his Scott and Amundsen talk.

Rob on the ice.  Who on this great lump of rock would talk in shorts on the ice pack ?(except Rob C of course)


Rocksitters in March.

Here in KwaZulu Natal we have two members of the genus Durbania.  Members of the species Durbania amakosa fly throughout the Eastern region, from the coast right up to 2500m is suitable areas.  They are also mid summer insects, emerging in November on the coast and later at higher altitudes.  Our localised Durbania limbata is a bit of an anomoly, it flies in late summer.  Mid March is the best time to find it.  A few weeks ago my old friend Harald Selb visited us from Cape Town and Steve Woodhall, Clive Curtis and I spent a day butterflying in the midlands with him.  I did not take him to the D limbata spots as I thought we may be too early.  Instead we visited the forests nearby and Woodridge.  A week later Clive and I visitied the old “Pennington spot” at Curries Post above Yellowoods.  Clive wanted HD video footage and I have to say that, despite having bred the insect from larvae found on the rocks had never seen it live.  So Clive and I visited the old spot.  After introducing ourselves to the owner we walked over to the colony (with his over active dogs in tow…..anyone who has ever tried to photograph butterflies will know that a bouncing, loving labrador is not a great help when trying to focus on a butterfly at 20cm).  We wondered around and saw very little apart from a very territorial Spialia spio.  I checked the rocks and found loads of old pupal cases but no insects.  After 1/2 an hour of searching I was beginning to think we were to late and then Clive saw a D limbata.  That was it, over the next hour we saw loads.  Along with the D limbata were what have to be the most frustrating butterflies on the planet to photograph, Stygionympha wichgrafi, they rarely site and when they do it is for a second or two.  I have a hard drive of in flight escape shots!!  I got one relaxing.  All that said, I feel that if we had stopped with Harald we would have seen them.  Pity but good reason for him to come up again next March.  Here are a few photos of the day.

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman

Spialia spio, the Mountain Sandman underside

Spialia Spio, the Mountain Sandman, underside.

Stygionympha wichgrafi, Wichgrafs Brown.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Durbania limbata, the Natal Rocksitter.

Clive Curtis videoing D limbata.

Clive Curtis doing his thing.


The Kiln Gallery has a new Artist, Tess Reid

This month Tess joined us at the Kiln.  A few of her words and then a number of images :

“Born in 1971 and raised in Durban, South Africa, I had an interest in art from a young age. I grew up next to two well know artists and teachers, Jeff and Pascal Chandler who helped to encourage my interest in the Arts. My father was artistic too and loved doing portraits & designing furniture.
I pursued art throughout my schooling and studied Interior Design at college where I was introduced to photography. This has continued to interest me as I enjoy spending time capturing the images for my art works. After completing my training, I designed wrought iron furniture and learnt a lot about proportion.
I moved to Zimbabwe in 1994, got married and lived and worked there until 2003 before moving back to Durban to work for Architects in the Interior Design field. At the end of 2010 my family and I moved to Howick, for a change of lifestyle and to pursue my passion for art full time. My inspiration is God’s Creation … seen through the love of a child or the beauty of a delicate flower. I capture these special moments in time and portray them in my art.”

Conversation

“Conversation – 1010mm x 765mm – R 5700.00”

“Wheelbarrow – 400mm x 300mm – R 1250.00”

“Lantern – 250mm x 355mm – R 910.00”

“Burgundy blossom – 400mm x 305mm – R 1250.00”


South Africa’s largest butterfly, Papilio ophidicephalus phalusco, the Emperor Swallowtail, Life History

The largest butterfly in Southern Africa is, without doubt, the Emperor Swallowtail (Papilio ophidicephalus). The insect is found throughout the mist forests in Southern Africa (through into East Africa). In South Africa we have a number of sub-species, ssp phalusco is found in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal as far north as Greytown, ssp zuluensis in the Eshowe area, ssp ayrsi in the Northern KZN into Southern Mpumalanga, ssp transvaalensis in the Drakensberg and Wolkberg Notrh of the Oliphants river and ssp entabeni in the Soutpansberg way up there in the Limpopo Province. There are a number of other ssp including the nominate further North but we shall stick to ssp phalusco, the one that I know most intimately myself being an inhabitant of their range.
Before I carry on, this post shall not go into detail regarding the length and duration of the instarts (period between skin sheds), as this has all been documented at length by the likes of Clarke and van Son. Instead I shall discuss what I observed during the short eight weeks of the cycle from egg to adult.
My old friend Clive Curtis has always been very pationate about butterflies.  We have travelled all around the province together colelcting and breeding butterflies and he is currently working on a DVD about South African Butterflies (www.safarivision.com). Part of the work toward this is documenting the life histories of a particular species in each family. Clive chose the most spectacular of our swallowtails (P ophidicephalus phalusco) as one focus species to breed. He captured a female in the Karkloof had her lay about 20 eggs and past 15 on to me to breed at home.
The Papilionidae (swallowtails) are spectacular insects. All South African readers will know the Orange Dog (Papilio demedocus demedocus) or Green Banded Swallowtail (Papilio nireus lyaeus) from their gardens. These two breed on, amongst other plants, the Citrus species such as lemon, grapfruit and orange trees. Our species, the largest of all, is a far more selective eater. It eats a plant known as Clausena anisata (known as Perdepis in Afrikaans, loosely translated as Horse pee due to its smell when you crush the leaves). Anyway, the first stage of the life history is the egg. Eggs are laid lingly on leaves of the foodplant. The eggs are circular, cream coloured and between 1 and 1.5mm in diameter.  It takes the little larvae take about five or six days to mature to eclosure or larval emergence. Just prior to the little larva breaking out of the egg it darkens up. Upon emerging from the egg the larva has its first meal, the old egg shell. To gat an idea of size the larva is approximately 2mm long on emergence. So, to photos, the first photo is of the egg while the second is of the young larva eating the egg shell.

 

OK, after the little creature eats its shell it settles into life as a butterfly larva.  This is a dangerous life, birds, robber flies and spiders want to eat you, wasps and flies want to sting you and lay their eggs in your little body and have their babies grow in you (while you are still crawling around and eating).  You are not equiped with very much to evade these hazards, you cannot crawl fast but you can hide.  From the moment that these little larvae start to eat they begin to look like a piece of bird dropping.  From the first to the fourth instar they larvae look like a bird dropping.  They stay on the leaves, eating, growing and shedding skin until, after approximately four weeks they reach the final instar that is different.  Of interest is that, during the third and fourth instars, the larvae rest with a slight twist to their body (see the photos below).  Anyway, here are photos of the second, third and fourth instars.

 

The final instar is very different.  Rather then resting on the leaves they spend their sleeping time at the base of the tree or branch.  This means that they no longer need to resemble something grim like a bird dropping and are supprisingly different with beautiful green and brown patches on the skin.  The lumps and bumps are still evident (indeed into the pupal stage).  Of interest, the Papilio butterflies have a defensive mechanism, a foul smelling structure known as the ostometrium that it pops out of its head when threatened. As said they smell foul and obviously tell all attackers that they are not a pleasant tasting meal at all.  Below are a number of photos of the final instar (and a couple with the mutters with their ostometrium exposed)

The most magical of all butterly larval stages has to be larva to pupa to butterfly.  After 7 to 14 days as fifth instar larvae they get nice and fat and  lethargic.  The process of change begins.  They slip off and find a safe place to spend the next two or three weeks as a vulnerable pupa.  The Papilio butterflies all have a girdle holding the pupa in place.  Like most other butterflies they spin a silk pad which that they attach themselves to (by anal appendages known as cremaster hooks).  They also spin a girdle which is a little like you undoing your belt and slipping it around a branch and the fixing it.  It allows you the spend your pupal stage, head up leaning back.  The pupa is splendid, rather like a twig with a bit of lichen underneath.

Finally, after two to three weeks (and longer during winter) the adult emerges.  Not much more can be said of the butterfly, most people have seen it.  It is safe to say, and an awful cliche, that, like most jouneys the destination is great but the route is enlightening.  The path to adulthood of these beautiful butterflies is full of risk.  The response is a wonderful evolutionary result where larvae and papae are beautifully cryptic.  Below are shots of a freshly emerged male.

 

Anyway, I must conclude by saying that if you want to see these butterflies, it is easy.  All you need to do is get into open spaces within the mist forests on a sunny day in Summer (peak in November/December and again in March/April) and you will see them flitting around.  An old trick is that they love the colour red.  About 20 years ago I purchased a car for its colour, a bright red VW, and it was perfect to attract Papilio butterflies (especially P ophidicephalus and P euphranor) to come closer.


Hogsback, rain, mud and a few butterflies……

There has been silence from my side as we all dashed off for Christmas at my parents home in the Hogsback in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.  As usual with my visit to Hogsback the trip would involve time on the bicycle and as much butterflying as possible.  The main focus butterfly wise was to find a number of endemics, some of which had neve been photographed.  These included Penningtons Opal (Chrysoritis penningtoni), Dicksons Copper (Aloeides dicksoni) and the Gaika Sylph (Metisella syrinx).  Added to the list was as many photographs of the Amakosa rocksitter (Durbania amakosa amakosa) as possible to compare with our local insect as well as the one that I discussed in my last post, from the Bushmans Neck area.

The drive to Hogsback was long and hard.  As we approached we were greated by a massive thunder storm that was followed by a day of soft rain and cabin fever (me on holiday needing exercise, Tracey wanting to get out and three little girls).  It was good though as it gave us time to spend time with my folks, sister Leonie from Cape Town, other sister Nikki and her husband Rod and their little ones over from Kansas.  On day two we sis see sunshine for a few hours and I dashed out to a local wetland to look for Satyrids.

On arrival I found a few specimens of Serradinga clarki, they are very difficult to photograph as they flit around all over the place rarely landing and when they do it is in a clump of grass making taking a photograph very difficult.  After a few unsuccessful attempts I decided to wonder up a rocky ridge and to my supprise saw a skipper flitting around the rocks.  After a few minutes of following it around I was able to get a few photographs.  There were a number of the little beauties flying around enguaging in aerial battles.

 

I was a little confused with the ID of the skippers however Ernest Pringle and Torben Larsen both agreed that they were Tsitana tsita.

Shortly after seeing the skippers I noted a small dark butterfly flit onto a rock.  Immediately I knew that it would be a rocksitter and there it waqs, a small male, a bit ropey but I was chuffed to find that they were in the area and immadiately started looking for more.  After an hour I had photographed approximately 10 males and a female.  They are smaller than the Drakenberg and Natal subspecies and lack the orange dital markings on the other two.  Compare the photographs below to those from Bushmans Neck (previous post)

Durbania amakoza amakoza male (The Amakoza Rocksitter)

Durbania amakoza amakoza female (The Natal Rocksitter)

The next two days were wet and one was Christmas so we spent a very over indulgent day at Coombe Dingle.  The 27th December was to be a good day, or so all the weather web pages said, so we planned an assault on Gaikas Kop to try to get the rareties.  We woke up early to a breezy, overcast and chilly day.  I knew that the Chrysoritis colony that we were to visit was on the protected slopes so was fairly confident that we would be out of the wind and that we should be successful if the clouds broke.  The climb is short and pretty hard but the flowers over December are wonderful.  Various species of Watsonia (in particular W pillansii with the odd white form popping up in the patches or red) and the robust Kniphofia northyi were to be seen.  It was very strange that the Proteas, once so abundant on top and on the slopes, were in a very bad way with huge patches having died.  I climbed with Tracey (my wife), sisters Leonie and Nikki and brother in law, Rod and they were most shocked when, upon reaching the top I told them to walk half way down the other side to the colony.  Gaikas Kop is an amazing place.  It is flat on top and obviously collects a lot of water as whenever I have visited the sides of the hill seep water all over the place.  On the way down to the colony I saw a small Lyceanid butterfly flitting around.  It turned out to be Orachrysops nasutus nasutus, a fairly widespread cousin of the rare O niobe and O ariadne (I posted about this butterfly a few posts back).  It was a female and I was able to get a few photos, one is attached.

Female Orachrysops nasutus nasutus, the Nosy Blue

We got to the Chrysoritis colony, it was shielded from the wind and the clouds did break up giving us windows of opportunity to look for the illusive little butterfly.  I found them at the spot way back in 1993 and, since then, have visited on a number of occations either on my own or with Alan Heath and Harald Selb.  Every time that I have visited I have seen them.  Even my father, Bruce (not a butterfly person), has been up there on his own and collected a specimen for DNA analysis at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard).  The 27th was different.  I did not see a single specimen.  Sad but that it how things go and I will have to return to photograph them.  I did however find a lovely fresh female Serradinga clarki whose wings were still floppy.  I got some great photos of her before we left. 

Serradinga clarki (Clarks Widow) female

The walk down is through Thamnocallamis bamboo, a bamboo endemic to the higher slopes of the Southern Drakensberg and the Amatolas.  This bamboo is the foodplant of Metisella syrinx (the Gaika or Bamboo Sylph).  As soon as we got into the bamboo we saw the butterfly.  It is a beast to get close to and photograph as the hillside is steep and strewn with boulders and the higher bits of the bamboo very difficult to access.  After unsuccessfully chasing a few I finally got one to play the game and sit for a short period, shot enough to get two shots but to short to get an upperside.  One of the two is attached.

Metisella syrinx (The Banboo or Gaika Sylph)