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

steve woodhall

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.


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.


Charaxes candiope candiope, the Green-veined Charaxes – Life History

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.


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.