Something special down in the marshlands

The Mountain Sylph butterfly is confined to high-altitude grasslands and loves wetland environments—it’s almost as if Verloren Valei was designed for it.

By Justin Bode

Mountain Sylph (Photograph: Justin Bode)

Metisella aegipan aegipan, Mountain sylph or Berg-walsertjie has a scattered distribution in the high-altitude montane Grasslands from Hogs Back to Barkly East, Lesotho, Eastern Drakensberg, North-Western KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Free State, Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga.

Their habitat is wetlands, marshes and grassy gullies, in these montane grasslands. They fly slowly backwards and forwards over these marshy areas just above the level of the grass, sometimes resting on grass stems with folded wings or feeding on flowers.

The adults are on the wing from December to February. Males measure 28 to 43mm and the females 28 to 36mm.

To date the larval food plant and early stages of the Mountain Syph have not been recorded, although the larval foodplant is suspected to be Poaceae grasses.

Another small mystery is the reason for this butterfly’s Latin tag of aegipan aegipan. Aegipan translates as Goat-Pan, a reference to the Greek god of nature, Pan, who took the form of a satyr, with the legs of a goat. Nor, for that matter, is it clear why one of its names is Shaka’s Ranger.

On Verloren Valei, a good spot to search for them is the grassy marsh area where the road that runs alongside the Lunsklip River from the office turns right and crosses the river on low water bridge. Stop your vehicle here and spend some time in the area—your patience may be rewarded with a sighting of these special little butterflies.

Lepi-Map distribution of Mountain Sylph

Sources

S Mecenero, JB Ball, DA Edge, Ml Hamer, GA Henning, M Krüger, EL Pringle, RF Terblanche, and MC Williams (eds), Conservation assessment of butterflies of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland: Red List and atlas. Saftronics (Pty) Ltd: Johannesburg & Animal Demography Unit, Cape Town, 2013.

MC Williams, Afrotropical Butterflies, www.metamorphosis.org.za, 2016.

S Woodhall, Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa. Struik, Cape Town, 2020

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