Butterflies

Gallinato butterflies (1)

Our farm is located in the northern part of the Gallinato gorge in the La Caldera Department, Salta province. It is a transitional area between the Yungas and the Chaco. It rains abundantly during the summer months and it is dry during winter and spring.

It is still a forested area that offers not only interesting trees and plants but a varied and interesting animal life. A study carried out in 2013-14 in the adjacent farm[1] found 14 spp of Amphibiae, 23 spp of reptiles, 28 spp of mammals and 216 spp of birds. Both mammals and birds are rather difficult to observe but this is not the case of the 152 spp of butterflies found as well as an amazing number of moths and other critters that are easier to see. In other words, our farm is an insect paradise!

As our life evolves around avoiding the winter by commuting between Zimbabwe and Argentina and Uruguay we are in Salta during the summer, warm and humid, ideal conditions for the development of insects, particularly butterflies. Aware of this fact we have planted “butterflies-friendly” plants that attract a good number of these beautiful creatures to the area around our farmhouse. However, it is over the 5 km of the access road that butterflies are really amazing and we record most of what we see.

Over the next few posts I will present you with pictures of butterflies, moths and other “beasts” that we are finding this year during our morning walks when the rain allows us to walk.

I start with the butterflies. I have omitted their names as I am not yet sure of a definitive classification and also because I think it is a question of beuty rather than scientific facts. However, unable to escape my technical background, I will be naming them when I am sure of their identity.

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[1] Moschione, F.N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato. La Caldera. Provincia de Salta. 55p.

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Butterflies

During our previous visit to Mana Pools in September[1] we stayed at Gwaya camp. In one of the walks around camp I found a rather derelict water tower that still supplied us with this important liquid. A leaking water tank sat over a square and now door less room. The latter and the surrounding area were very damp on account of the long-term water leakages that run down its walls ending up feeding a number of puddles where animals came for a drink. The area was a green blotch on an otherwise bone dry landscape.

The water tower.

The water tower.

It was near to this spot that my hidden camera trap almost remained secret for good as buffalo and lions moved in[2]. At that time, with my attention focused on recovering the camera I had a brief look inside the base of the tower expecting to find bats. I found butterflies instead but did not spend time there, as I was more concerned about avoiding lions and/or buffaloes!

During the last visit in October 2015, we noted that Gwaya was deserted from both campers and dangerous animals, so we went back to the water tower to have a better look, hoping that the butterflies were still there. There were! This time I managed to enter the room although its floor was waterlogged as water was also filtering in the inside of the tower. The combination of intense heat and abundant water had created a tropical microhabitat that was still home to hundreds of small butterflies, settled on the walls.

The view from the door.

The view from the door.

A closer view of the butterflies.

A closer view of the butterflies.

My entrance disturbed them and they took off all at once. As they did not wish to leave the dark damp area, a large cloud of them formed and flew around my head. For a while I felt like Mauricio Babilonia of Macondo[3] with the difference that these butterflies were brown and not yellow! Eventually they settled down again and I managed to take the pictures that illustrate this post.

They took off when I entered.

They took off when I entered.

I believe that they were Elfin Skippers (Sarangesa motozi) that Migdoll’s Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern Africa describes as an uncommon species found mainly in rain-forests in the region where it feeds on Barleria, Justicia and Perithrophe, members of the Acanthaceae flowering plants.

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A lone and rather bloated gecko also resided in the room, his condition revealing that it did not know what hunger is!

I am sure that this resident colony of butterflies would offer a thrilling study to a lepidopterist! Not being one, I left them thinking on how much I enjoyed reading García Marquez’s magic realism and that I should revisit his work.

Muchichiri lodge, Mana Pools, October 2015.

[1] See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/mana1-pools-safari/

[2] See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/camera-recovered/

[3] Interestingly, to get to Mana Pools you cross the Makonde District!!!

Wet butterflies?

Most of the time we have been “rained in” at our farm in Salta with only the occasional sunny spell, reminiscent of our time in Bedele, Ethiopia or worse, the UK! Well not as bad as the latter… The longest sunny spell lasted twelve hours but the normal sun appearances were a couple of hours long!

Butterflies were totally absent during the rainy spells and, as soon as the sunshine appeared, they were out in full force almost magically! Watching this event a few times the question of the title came: where are they when it rains? One theory was that they hatched with the sunshine but it was discarded, as they were too fast to respond! The idea of sheltering themselves against the rain gained strength but where?

As often happens, an answer came out of a spin off from another observation. The rain was so much that our river flooded, stopping us from leaving the farm.

Inspecting the flooded farm.

Inspecting the flooded farm.

While taking stock of the situation under the rain, I could not fail to see a large orange spot in a tree. Closer inspection revealed a large butterfly hanging upside down. On closer inspection I noted that it had aligned its body to the branch above it and it was perfectly protected from the raindrops.

The butterfly perfectly aligned under the thin branch.

The butterfly perfectly aligned under the thin branch.

Unfortunately my camera would refuse to focus on the insect, as there were raindrops and small branches interfering with its electronic “brain”. Unfortunately it moved off before I could take a better shot.

Although you may think that this was a clever ruse from the yellow butterfly, it was really nothing compared with the two shown below that found shelter inside our house!

Safer inside the house and looking out.

Safer inside the house and looking out.

Another clever moth!

Another clever moth!

Flying Gems

When I saw jewels flying I thought that hypoxia had accentuated my natural brain decay. Even under these circumstances I was quite surprised!

It all happened while practicing the “walking to keep fit” arrangement that my wife and I performed daily, weather permitting. Of course you have already guessed that they were butterflies and that unlike García Marquez in his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, I failed to convey the proper message. For this reason, this post is mainly about the photographs I took of what was flying around during a few days walking in and around our farm at the Andes foothills[1].

The first one that caught our attention was the Crimson-banded Black (Biblis hyperia nectanabis), very mobile and tricky to capture. These are the best I got:

Crimson black 2 small

Crimson black 1 small

We could also not fail to notice a few others that, with their fair share of beauty, immediately attracted our attention. These are shown below:

Dark Malachite 3 Dark Malachite 3 crop Dark Malachite 2 Dark Malachite 2 crop Dark Malachite 1 crop

Five pictures of Dark Malachite (Siproeta epaphus epaphus)

Yunguena Sapphire and hooked small

Yungueña Sapphire (Doxocopa cyane burmeisteri) on the right and Hooked Small (no Latin name)

Fuegan Fuegan open Fuegan open crop Fuegan -2- crop

Fuegian (Mechanitis lysimnia elisa)

Once the most obvious (and larger) species were noticed, a number of others were noted such as a large number of very small black and yellow ones lying flat on wet areas. Closer inspection revealed two similar types occurring together as well as a rather delicately ornate orange one, also sharing the wetter and shady areas.

Black and yellow unknown cropped Black and yellow group Black and yellow different from each other small Orange small unknown crop

Several other species were noted. The following ones are the most colourful, although as the video below also shows, there are large number of others that we had not had time to photograph at this point. Regarding their identification, what I know about them is included in the caption of the pictures.

Leopard 1 crop Leopard 2 crop Dark brown and white small Catula other Catula brown crop Brown and white crop Black wing folder crop Black and orange cropped Beige cropped Ashgray

After a few days of rambling along our roads, we thought we had seen most of what was on offer and we were just checking for the odd one that had escaped our attention so far, mainly small ones. Wrong again! After a rainy night, sunshine greeted us the following morning. Clearly the conditions for butterfly (and other insect) activity were optimal and they were out in numbers. Close to the start of our walk we found fresh faeces, probably from a pig (regrets to the fainthearted but this is nature’s “reality show”) that had a mixed population feeding on them. But what really caught our attention was a rather large and hitherto new winged creature, with iridescent blue wings with red markings.

Various insects attracted by faeces. The obvious iridescent blue butterfly/fly called our attention.

Various insects attracted by faeces. The obvious iridescent blue butterfly/fly called our attention.

A close-up of the butterfly/fly.

A close-up of the butterfly/fly.

Although at first sight we mistook it for a butterfly, its direct flight and red bulgy eyes made us suspect that it is probably more related to flies than butterflies. Further investigation on this weird and beautiful creature is on its way and it will be reported.

In the meantime, in the rare moments of calm between more research, blog writing and farm chores, I am reading García Marquez to see if I can find the precise words for the next post as butterflies and moths are still being found!

[1] I regret to inform the readers that I am only able to identify a handful of them as there is no available guide and no Internet access. I will follow up when possible and complete the information later.