Roots 'n' Shoots: Little White Butterflies

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Little White Butterflies

Where do the white butterflies come from? Where do the white butterflies go?


Brown Veined White Butterfly on pompoms
Belenois aurota
Every year in South Africa, during December-January, little white butterflies take to the air in their thousands, all flying in the same direction. They visit gardens and flowers along the way. Even though it is a yearly occurrence, many people don’t know why it happens.

Brown Veined White Butterfly on statice
Belenois aurota

This is the migratory flight of the Brown Veined White Butterfly, Belenois aurota (AKA Pioneer white, African Caper White and in Afrikaans: Grasveldwitjie). They belong to the Pieridae (the ‘Whites’) family of butterflies and migrate north-east over the interior of South Africa.

Brown Veined White Butterfly 
Belenois aurota

During good rainy seasons, the butterflies’ population is bolstered by the abundance of leaves for caterpillars on host plants (Capparaceae: specific genera include; Boscia, Shepard’s trees; Maerua, endemic trees of Mozambique and Capparis, Caper shrubs). These caterpillars subsequently metamorphose into butterflies.

Brown Veined White Butterfly 
Belenois aurota

Caper Bush
Capparis spinosa
Botanical Flora von Deutschland Osterreich un der Schweiz
1885
Kurt Stober's Online Library
The adults mate and lay eggs on the host species (they breed before they fly). Afterwards they begin their migration. They fly and continue to fly until they succumb to complete exhaustion.  If they get sufficient food along the way, making pit stops in gardens, they can fly as far out to the Mozambique Channel and perish in the Indian Ocean.

Brown Veined White Butterfly 
Belenois aurota

Migratory Route

After a few years of migrating eastwards they will turn around and migrate back again. So the cycle continues and white butterflies take to the sky. I will update this post as soon as the first of the whites appear this year.

Brown Veined White Butterfly 
Belenois aurota
This is about the only time we really get any butterflies in the garden. There was another little visitor, the Yellow Pansy, Junonia hierta.
Yellow Pansy
Junonia hierta


Related Posts
If you want to provide flowers (food) for the travelers' annual journey or want to attract more butterflies and bees to your garden then see my Insectary post for more information.

Butterfly & Bee friendly plants
Excellent refueling stations for wary travelers
See my Insectary post for additional plant options & info

- Update 08 Jan 2014 - 

The Butterflies are here! The white butterflies have started migrating through Gauteng. The first drips and drabs have been fluttering about today... more still to come!

- Update 11 Jan 2014 - 

The masses have made their way to Roodepoort. The chickens try their best to catch some who flutter to close to the ground, but to no avail - very amusing to watch them race after the little whites.

- Update 12 Jan 2014 - 

Watch Out Pretoria! The white could of fluttering wings are upon you!

- Update 14 Jan 2014 -

Sadly, the butterfly run has come to an end. Updates again next season!





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12 comments:

  1. Thousands of them appeared on the 9th January 2014 in Ficksburg, Eastern Free State. Still flying today - the 10th!

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  2. Thanx for letting us know! I am sure that the hordes will be here soon then! :)

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  3. They are back......28 November 2014!!!!

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  4. Yes, thanx for updating!

    Although, I did notice a few butterflies as well and their numbers increased around the 29th of November, they were not nearly as prolific as they should have been - maybe this was a smaller 'first wave' considering our very late rains this year. Hmmm - Hopefully another batch will arrive a bit later in the year/early next year...

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  5. I was amazed to see some white butterflies flying this year considering the terrible El Nino - thought that they would not have enough food or water this year to make their journey. I'll heed it as a good omen - the resolve and endurance of nature!

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  6. Thousands of them are in Bloemfontein today. I was on the golf course this morning and they were everywhere! When I came home they are also at my house among the flowers.Does anyone know what the caterpillar looks like?
    Charlotte Augustyn

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  7. Hey hey! Wikipedia has some pictures of the caterpillars from their first to third instar stages! ;)

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  8. This morning 3 FEB 2017 thousands graveldwitjie

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  9. Hey hey! Thanks Phil - we had a few go by earlier but they only came out in their masses later. They are quite late this year, likely due to the very late rains.

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