South Africans – from Johannesburg to Howick, East London to Clarens – have been swept away in the past couple of days by mesmerising scenes of millions of white butterflies floating through the streets and gardens of the city… all flying in a north-easterly direction.
It’s the annual mid-summer migration of the Brown-Veined White Butterfly.
Many could be spotted on television yesterday, if you were watching the cricket test match at Wanderers.
And today author Fiona Melrose posted a video with the white butterflies, in a very cool garden in Johannesburg.
“They’re here!” she tweeted. “The annual mid summer butterfly migration descends on the garden where I work. I used this annual migration in a scene in JOHANNESBURG.
“The white, brown-veined butterflies are heading for Mozambique. Millions float across the city on their journey. Exquisite!”
The butterflies have already travelled far, coming from the Northern Cape – according to Free State University’s Dr Vaughn Swart, from the Zoology and Entomology Department (and some people reported seeing them a couple of weeks ago in the Namib Desert in Namibia).
Dr Swart told EWN: “The butterflies originate from arid places in the country such as the Karoo and head in a north-easterly direction towards Mozambique and northern KwaZulu-Natal.”
On the way they also fly through the Free State (where many have been seen in the past few days in Clarens), Eastern Cape (hundreds seen over an East London farm today), KZN (many in Howick today), Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
They’re here! The annual mid summer butterfly migration descends on the garden where I work. I used this annual migration in a scene in JOHANNESBURG. The white, brown-veined butterflies are heading for Mozambique. Millions float across the city on their journey. Exquisite! pic.twitter.com/JMDgExx27T
— Fiona Melrose (@FMelroseWriter) January 28, 2020
Sid from Namibia shared a video captured two weeks ago of the butterfly migration in Namibia “as they did a pit-stop for some water”. Elana Kruger also reported driving through “thousands of them” in the Namib desert in late December.
According to Wildlife South Africa, the numbers depend each year on the climatic conditions. They’re followed by many dragonflies and insect-eating birds.
The Brown-Veined White Butterfly is apparently SA’s most common butterfly, and comes from the Family Pieridae. They’re also referred to as Pioneer White or African Caper White butterflies.
Writing on Wildlife South Africa, Johan van der Walt says this butterfly breeds on the Shepherd’s Tree (Boscia Albitrunca), and sometimes they can be seen for at least three days as they make their way north east.
“These butterflies start flying, and laying eggs, from a specific area in the South West – Kalahari (Northern Cape region). As they fly in a north-easterly direction, more and more join the flight. They also pause to lay eggs along the way,” he says.
Sadly not all will make it to Mozambique (or Madagascar as some claim).
Van der Walt says: “Little research has been done with regards to where exactly these butterflies fly to, but they have been noticed flying above the ocean near the Mozambique coast, where at the end of their journey, they most probably fall into the sea. They need not fly back to sustain the population, as eggs have already been deposited on the way.
“In reality the flight is an emigration and not really a migration, as they only fly one way and then die at the end of their journey.”
A couple of social media commenters already reported unfortunately seeing “dozens of them falling down dead” and one person said “I thought I was in the middle of a light snow storm early this morning, until they started hitting my windscreen 🤣🙈”, but the majority are still en-route and creating joy for all those who witness them.
Wildlife conservationist: Karen Trendler said she was in Sandton and her garden has “been filled with butterflies all morning”.
We captured the Butterfly migration in Namibia as they did a pit-stop for some water two weeks ago. pic.twitter.com/FrPi8UeEND
— Sid (@African_Peaches) January 28, 2020
— IG: bosssindim (@SindiMzizi) January 28, 2020
Here’s a close-up of the butterfly (thank you Gauteng publicist, Georg Knoke):
Wonderful to see the swarms of white butterflies in Joburg today – thousands fluddering around! Could not get a proper…
If you’ve never seen butterfly eggs (!), Andrea Sander took these amazing photos this month in Drummond, KZN (from a different butterfly):
Wow! While we're all loving the butterfly migration thro' SA, how insanely beautiful are these pics… of butterfly…
READ MORE about the butterfly migration on Wildlife South Africa here.