RARE LARGE BLUE
BUTTERFLIES IN THORNTREE CONSERVANCY
Graham Henning & Peter Roos
The large blues are an interesting genus of African butterflies that have been found in the Thorntree Conservancy. The genus is Lepidochrysops Hedicke, 1923. This is a large, solely Afrotropical, genus containing about 130 species. Most species have males with various shades of blue on the uppersides, but some species are brown. Most females are brown with various sized blue bases to the uppersides of the wings. The larvae of the few species that have been bred are phyto-
The rarest of the Lepidochrysops, and categorised as extinct in the South African Red Data Book-
Lepidochrysops praeterita male underside Lepidochrysops praeterita male upperside
In the late nineteen fifties David Swanepoel set out to rediscover Morant’s Blue and searched for it in KwaZulu-
L. praeterita is included in the current Red Data List and despite numerous unsuccessful visits to the colonies at Carletonville and Potchefstroom over the past few years it would appear that the species is under severe threat. The species only seems to fly when the habitat has been burnt and the lack of burning is a major threat.
Female L. praeterita laying an egg on the underside of a leaf of B. grandiflorum
An old record existed for L. praeterita from Walker’s Fruit Farms but only this year did Peter Roos visit the area and find the colony. This is on the burnt southern facing slope above the Arboretum Nursery. Its flight is fast, erratic and close to the ground. It flies in late September into October and is often only on the wing for a couple of weeks. The larvae feed on Becium grandiflorum (Lam.) Pichi-
It is interesting to note that this season the Becium was not in the correct stage of development for L. praeterita and the females were recorded laying their eggs on leaves for the first time by Graham Henning.
Another rare large blue found in the Thorntree Conservancy is Lepidochrysops procera (Trimen, 1893) its type locality is Estcourt, Natal and it flies in a few localities between there and Potchefstroom .The common name is the Potchefstroom blue. It inhabits Grassland and savanna. Its flight is medium-
Two other common large blues are found in the Conservancy. The first is the Patricia Blue, Lepidochrysops patricia Trimen & Bowker, 1887). The type locality for this species is Potchefstroom. This a widespread species that inhabits grassland and savanna. Its larval food plants are Lantana camara L. (Verbenaceae) (exotic) [Clark and Dickson, 1957a: 115] Salvia repens Burch. ex Benth. var. repens (Lamiaceae) [Williams, 1994: ; Williams, 1996b: 133; Vaalkop, near Morgenzon, Mpumalanga]. Lantana rugosa Thunb. (Verbenaceae) [Williams, 1994: Williams, 1996b: 133; Klipfontein, Pretoria district, Gauteng, and near Stoffberg, Mpumalanga] and its associated ant is Camponotus maculatus race liengmei Forel var. [Dickson, 1955: 48].
The other large blue is the Twin-
In both these species the males are avid hilltoppers, selecting low bushes or rocks as perches. Males also establish territories on flat ground. Females fly at random and are often encountered in the shade of large thorn trees, where the larval food-
Lepidochrysops plebeia plebeia. Male. Left – upperside; right – underside. Wingspan: 35mm. Witpoortjie, Transvaal, S. Africa. 7.11.71. G.A. Henning.
HENNING, S.F. & HENNING, G.A. 1989. Southern African Red Data Book Butterflies. South African National Scientific Programmes Report No. 158, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Pretoria.
HENNING, G.A. & HENNING, S.F. 1992. Conservation of Lepidoptera in Southern Africa. In, A practical guide to butterflies and moths in Southern Africa, edited by S.E. Woodhall et al.. Lepidopterists' Society of Southern Africa, Florida. pp. 29
PRINGLE, E.L., HENNING, G.A & BALL, J.B. (Editors) 1994. Pennington's Butterflies of Southern Africa 2, revised by G.A. Henning, E.L. Pringle and J.B. Ball. Struik, Cape Town.