The Garden Acraea, not just a garden species

One of the more common butterflies that occurs in Verloren Valei is the Garden Acraea, Acraea horta. It is a widespread species in South Africa, absent only from the desert regions.

Garden Acraea feeding on flowers (Photograph by Justin Bode)
Garden Acraea feeding on flowers (Photograph by Justin Bode)
Garden Acraea feeding on flowers (Photograph by Justin Bode)
Garden Acraea feeding on flowers (Photograph by Justin Bode)

This orange and black butterfly is a common sight in many gardens where one of its food plants Kiggelaria africana (Wild Peachits many other common names include Rooispekhout, Umpata and Mufhatapvhufa), is popular with gardeners. The larvae can strip a tree of all its foliage in years of abundance, but while this may detract from the attractiveness of the tree, it does not harm the tree and seems to support its growth. The bare tree is a small price to pay for the chance to have number of these beautiful butterflies emerge later in the season.

Aside from Kiggelaria africana, the recorded larval food plants for the butterfly are Ceratiosicyos laevis (Cucumber Pod Creeper), Guthriea capensis,, Passiflora caerulea (Common Granadilla or Passieblom), Passiflora manicata and Passiflora mollissima.

The eggs are laid in neat clusters on a leaf of the food-plant. They are pale yellow at first, but change to chocolate and finally to purplish brown. They take about nine days to hatch, when the young larva eats a hole in the shell near the top. After crawling through this hole, they proceed to eat the discarded shell.

Normally there are six larval instars, but in warm weather a moult is skipped. (An instar is a phase between two periods of moulting in the development of an insect larva or other invertebrate animal, according to Wikipedia.) Except for the final instar, the larvae live in clusters.

Although they are unpalatable to most birds, the larvae are a favourite meal of cuckoos, which seem to be the only bird species that feed on them.

The pupa is dull yellow with black markings, and is suspended head downward from the trunk of a tree, from twigs, rocks and, in towns, on walls and door posts. The butterfly takes two and a half weeks to emerge. These beautiful butterflies are on the wing all year, but are commoner in the summer months. Both the males and females are fond of flowers.

Lepi-Map distribution Map for Garden Acraea
Lepi-Map distribution Map for Garden Acraea


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, 2005.

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