HEIMWEE FOR THE ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

We have been in lock-down for ninety-five days already – despite having moved to Level Three (‘advanced’ Level Three nogal!) that allows more businesses to open, we still cannot visit family and friends nor can we cross provincial borders without a permit – and you require a very good reason to get one of those. National Parks are now open for day visitors, yet the above-mentioned restrictions make visiting the Kruger National Park out of the question. In the spirit of the photograph below, I will look back to share some of the delights of the Addo Elephant National Park which we hope to visit again before much longer.

Naturally, one goes to the Addo Elephant National Park to see elephants – they seldom disappoint. We have seen herds of over a hundred individuals congregating around the Hapoor waterhole; been surprised by single elephants right next to the road; and have enjoyed watching small groups – such as the one these two are part of – at the Domkrag waterhole. Here we are able to get out of our vehicle and look down at these magnificent animals as they go about their daily life.

You might be fortunate enough to come across a Secretary Bird striding through the grasslands.  They occur singly and in pairs – it is always worth scanning the veld to see if you can spot another one.

Zebras grace the landscape in Addo – they might occur in small groups or in much larger ones that stretch across the side of a grassy slope. They are always a delight to observe.

I am always pleased to come across the large Mountain tortoises that lumber through the grass or patiently cross rocky areas. This one was taking advantage of a puddle in the road after rain.

Then there are the beautiful Cape Glossy Starlings that brighten the landscape.

By keeping an eye open for more than just animals, you get to enjoy some of the many butterflies too.

DON’T EAT ME!

When you are a soft and squishy larva of a butterfly you need to send out a clear message to potential predators: DON’T EAT ME – rather find something else looking less fearsome and palatable! This message is loud and clear in these four examples:

AUTUMNAL CATERPILLARS

They have appeared all over the garden – all within two weeks. All are spiky and brightly coloured:

This is one of several threading their way through the grass on the lawn.

Several have been crawling along the outside walls of our house.

Some have even been seen wending their way on the lid of the dustbin.

I won’t venture to guess which butterfly these are the larva of but, judging by the number of them in our garden, we should be getting a lot of them here sometime!

 

CAPERING BUTTERFLIES

Brown-veined White Butterflies (Belenois aurota) are fairly easily recognised. Other common names for this butterfly include Pioneer, Pioneer White and Caper White.

There is a touch of yellow in the wings of this one.

The wings of this one are a little ragged.

Is this a much younger one? Looked at from above, it looks different – is it a Brown-veined White?

Dozens of these butterflies were flying above and in between the grass on the edge of town last month – perhaps these were the vanguard of the enormous migrations that had many South Africans agog at their numbers earlier in the year. Apparently these butterflies need to frequently replenish themselves with nectar to avoid dehydration and are particularly attracted to grass nectar – which would explain the numbers of them that settled briefly on the long grass.

Their annual north-easterly migration usually occurs during mid-summer, although the actual timing may depend on factors such as drought and rain. During this time they provide food for other insects and birds.

GARDEN ACRAEA

Horta, from the Latin hortus, means garden. Given the plethora of the reddish-orange butterflies that have been fluttering through the garden, it comes as no surprise to find the Garden Acraea is scientifically known as Acraea horta. If you get half a chance to look at one closely, you will see its black spots that are shorthand for ‘distasteful’, a warning to birds to leave it alone and seek something else for a snack.

Apparently it is distasteful because its larva extracts cyanide from its host plant and carries it through to the mature stage, when it is exuded should the butterfly become injured or feel threatened. Such plants include the Wild Peach (Kiggelaria africana), which we have growing in our garden. I must keep an eye on this tree for the spikey caterpillars will doubtless be stripping leaves off it during autumn. The Garden Acraea also visit the Tacoma capensis (Cape Honeysuckle), which is coming into bloom now.

Both the Diederik Cuckoo and the Red-chested Cuckoo – fleeting visitors to our garden – do not appear to be affected by the cyanide content of the caterpillars and are happy to eat them. You may want to read this fascinating article on the relationship between the caterpillars and the leaf cyanide in the Wild Peach: https://journals.co.za/content/veld/73/1/AJA00423203_2121

If you are interested in attracting butterflies to your South African garden, I recommend the book Gardening for Butterflies by Steve Woodhall and Lindsay Gray published by Struik Nature.