It was a very travel-worn Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta) that landed at my feet in the middle of the drought-stricken veld the other day.

These attractive butterflies occur over much of South Africa in grasslands and scrub as well as in gardens, where they tend to fly low and rather fast. Judging by the tattered wings of this specimen, I am surprised it could still fly at all! Their habit of returning to more or less the same spot meant that, having spotted it fluttering about, I could wait – fairly patiently – until it returned for a photograph.

I am fascinated by the naming of species and in discovered that the Juno part of the scientific name comes from the Roman goddess, Juno, who possessed a chariot drawn by peacocks.

These birds were sacred to her. For those interested in Roman mythology, she was the wife of Jupiter and was the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Her son was Mars, the god of war. You can read more about her in

Back to the butterfly, the wing patterns of which resemble a pansy – hence the common name. You cannot miss seeing these butterflies, which fortuitously often settle on the ground with their wings open. This one still looks beautiful despite its tattered condition.


I suspect this is the remains of an African Monarch butterfly that simply could fly no further.

It looks pretty, nonetheless.


I was trying to photograph a False Gerbera (Haplocarpha scaposa) next to the road when this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) alighted in front of my lens!

This is probably the most well-known and widespread butterfly in the world and occurs all over South Africa. I rather like the Afrikaans name for it, Sondagsrokkie, meaning Sunday’s Dress, a tribute to the pretty pattern of colours on the wings, which are a rich tawny colour with black markings and white spots.

The underside of the wings are mottled with yellow, white and brown.

The males and females are similar and can grow to between 40 and 50 mm. It has a characteristic flap-gliding flight pattern that draws one’s attention to it.


Usually the Brown-veined White Butterflies (Belenois aurota) migrate all over South Africa from late November to mid-February, depending on the weather conditions.

It is our most common butterfly and occurs in most areas in South Africa. While the main migration appears to be over for this season, a few stragglers still pass through the garden now and then. Judging from the travel torn wings of the one in the photograph below, I should perhaps say a few ‘ragglers’ can be seen now and then.

As these fragile looking creatures fly long distances, laying eggs as they go, and have been known to fly as far as Mozambique and even across to Madagascar, it is important to maintain several nectar-bearing plants in our gardens to provide some sustenance for them.


The Cassionympha cassius butterfly, also known as the Rainforest Brown, is commonly seen in the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal as they flutter around dense bushes or along forest fringes. This one was in a patch of bush near the road.


Despite the ongoing heat, nature has its own way of signalling the approach of autumn: in our garden the Erythrina caffra leaves are turning brown and swirl about in the breezes to land in layers on the lawn and bank up on the sides of the driveway; many of the weavers are starting to lose their breeding sartorial sharpness and look tatty and unkempt; and then there is the appearance of the butterflies.

The appearance of the velvety brown Cape Autumn Widow (Dira clytus) is a sure sign of the impending autumn as these butterflies only appear during March and April. True to form, they tend to fly very low and are not as easy to photograph as one might think. I ‘captured’ this one in the long kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum) growing at the fort in Post Retief, in the Eastern Cape. I think this one is a female, but cannot be sure – images I have seen of males show more orange than yellow – and it may well have been laying eggs in the thick grass.

Cape Autumn Widow

The wing pattern shows prominent yellow circles surrounding the black dots with blue centres. There is generally a reason for the specific colouring and patterns that appear in nature and so I assume this dramatic pattern must serve the purpose of repelling the birds that would otherwise eat them.