Pretty fluttering butterflies with their dazzling dance are part of the menu for nature lovers. With swaggering grace and jerky flights, they decorate the forested Serenada Eco Resort Beach on Lake Victoria. Butterflies are part of the long list that makes Uganda the Pearl of Africa. With 518 recor
By Mathias Mugisha
Pretty fluttering butterflies with their dazzling dance are part of the menu for nature lovers. With swaggering grace and jerky flights, they decorate the forested Serenada Eco Resort Beach on Lake Victoria. Butterflies are part of the long list that makes Uganda the Pearl of Africa. With 518 recorded species, Uganda is host to 75% of the African butterfly species.
With probing kisses, they suck nectar from the wild flowers. Their vibrating wings generate blissful tunes as their predators lurking in the thick vegetation salivate.
Though lovely and harmless, butterflies have many natural enemies. They are preyed upon by birds, reptiles, spiders and ants while their eggs are eaten by beetles, hover flies and birds like warblers. Their larvae are gobbled by birds. Butterflies which make it to adulthood are killed by predators, disease and bad weather. Small butterflies only live for three weeks while the life span of larger ones is double that of small ones.
Interestingly, some butterflies never eat all their lives. Those which do not need food hatch from pupa, which has a good amount of energy reserves in form of fat. They use the fat all their adult lives.
However, most butterflies do take some salts, sugars and liquids. Some, like the swallowtails, usually visit flowers to get nectar, others seek urea from animal dung. A number of males are sometimes seen on dump grounds near streams extracting salts, especially, sodium from the drying mud. This type of behaviour is called mud puddling.
With rainbow colours, they cut a figure of little angels from heaven, but do not be fooled: some butterflies are natural drunkards. The drunkard clan of butterflies comes from the charaxes genus. They like the juice from fermenting fruits that is alcoholic. Most times, they take too much, get drunk and fail to fly and become vulnerable to predators. Fortunately, some of them are poisonous, while others produce repulsive chemicals that keep predators at bay.
Most poisonous butterflies fly slowly with confidence, while those which are not mimic the poisonous ones in their movement. The masqueraders are usually black and white and orange.
Butterflies, together with moths, are insects that belong to the Lepidoptera order. Butterflies have large wings covered by small scales. They are an important link in the food chain. Some species are particular in their diet, eating specific plants. This makes them important for research and conservation studies. As a result they are increasingly attracting special tourists to Uganda, with a big number of them doing research on these beautiful insects.
Butterflies help researchers to learn what happens in their habitat. The presence of a particular butterfly indicates that their food plant is present.
In Uganda, Mabira forest has the highest number of butterflies with 250 species, 45 charaxes and 55% of the country’s swallowtails. Most African butterfly species are forest dwellers and Mabira is an old tropical forest, thus the big numbers of these insects. Other protected areas rich in butterflies are Kibaale and Bwindi national parks, which are also greatly forested. Outside of national parks, Serenada Eco Resort, with its old forest and exotic flowers, teems with all kinds of butterflies 12 hours a day.
Ambassador Ibrahim Mukiibi, the proprietor of Serenada, says he has been conserving his 18-acre forest for close to 30 years. It is just 35 minutes by boat from Ggaba landing site and is host to primates, giant lizards, medicinal plants and over 130 species of both water and forest birds. The sheer number of butterflies is an indicator of the rich biodiversity in the private forest.
Butterflies are colourful insects and are not pests to farmers. Their colours and patterns differ depending on the season. They are darker during cool times and lighter during hot seasons.
They are cold-blooded insects. They need to warm themselves in the sun with wings open before they can fly. At night, they sleep beneath leaves often in big communities to avoid predators. Some butterflies are migratory and move in large numbers over long distances to colonise new areas while abandoning unproductive habitats.
Faced with so many threats to their lives, butterflies have adapted some survival tricks. They fly in jerky patterns, making it hard for predators to hit the target. Some camouflage with the surrounding vegetation.
Some butterflies have false eyes on their wings to confuse birds, letting them attack from the wrong end to enable escape, albeit with broken wings. Butterflies with perforated or broken wings are survivors of these attacks.
Flying into the butterfly world