By Zuko Komisa
You’ve probably been seeing the annual butterfly migration happening in the Gauteng province, social media has been abuzz in the last few days from people who posted sightings of a dozen thousands of white butterflies.
More butterflies! At first hardly visible on the guara but keep watching ! pic.twitter.com/5nnpJU1kTV
— Fiona Melrose (@FMelroseWriter) January 28, 2020
Migration from South Africa’s west coast to Madagascar
According to Earle Whiteley, Lepidopterist, and Director of Conservation of butterflies in South Africa, every year, a swarms of white butterflies descend towards Johannesburg during their annual migration from South Africa’s west coast to Madagascar.
Whiteley, says the spectacle is an annual event, but that the clouds of Belenois aurota, commonly known as brown-veined white butterflies, do not always follow exactly the same route.
“There are three migration flights that start from various areas from the west coast, the misconception is that the butterflies fly the whole distance by themselves, which is impossible because they’d never make it”
In these flights many females mate with the males and continue their flight, this is then followed by the female laying eggs in their route, allowing the next generation of butterflies to begin a new migration at a later date.
The current migrating population is only 3%
According to Earle Whiteley the migrating butterfly we are seeing at the moment only accounts to only 3% that initially laid eggs, the rest have been eaten by parasites as well as predators such as snails, ants and praying mantis.
Listen to the full conversation here:
The lifespan of the butterflies
In poor conditions, these butterflies can live up to 4 weeks, and in good conditions, it can live up to 6 weeks. It takes them 4 minutes to feed after every 20-minute flight. One flight can be estimated to about 30-45 kilometers.
Conservation of Butterflies
Over the last century, we’ve lost many butterflies due to extinction, Whitely says part of the role as Lepidopterist is to repopulate affected areas. A task that takes the time he says it can take up to 3- 4 years to get one butterfly re-established in an area.