Mon. Jan 25th, 2021

In pictures: Diary of an African Monarch butterfly during lockdown

Take a closer look at the spectacular life of South Africa’s iconic butterfly majestically spreading its wings to take on a world during lockdown.

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Steve Woodhall, one of South Africa’s most well-known butterfly experts spent a month during lockdown documenting the life of an African Plain Tiger formerly known as an African Monarch.

This happened after Woodhall found larvae on milkweed (Gomphocarpus fruticosa) growing in his garden.

“I was able to capture the entire process au naturel,” he said.

The lockdown diary of a Monarch butterfly

Caterpillar (larva)

15 April: Woodhall finds recently moulted larva on milkweed.

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15 April

17 April: The larva has grown into a big caterpillar and is “nice and fat.”

Pupa (chrysalis)

20 April: The caterpillar has positioned itself hanging down and is ready to pupate.
20 April: Woodhall went indoors for ten minutes and missed the caterpillar spin itself into a pupa.

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20 April

21 April: Freshly formed pupa.
25 April: You can see the butterfly starting to form inside.

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25 April

9 May: More of the butterfly becomes visible, however, a black spot had Woodall a bit worried as he thought it could perhaps be an invasive passenger.
10 May: More definition can be seen. “Still the black spot, and some mysterious ‘condensation’. It hadn’t rained,” he said
11 May: By morning colours have started to appear and by the evening the pupa was fully transparent.

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11 May

11 May: Another pupa on the same plant had just emerged.

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11 May

Butterfly

11 May: A glorious fresh male African Plain Tiger, Danaus Chrysippus Orientis, on the verge of his maiden flight.

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11 May

“I witnessed it. He nearly went into the pool, but eventually found the sanctuary of the forest,” said Woodhall.

Caterpillars aren’t worms

Beryl Wilson, a zoologist and conservation biologist and Head of Zoology Department at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, says people shouldn’t confuse caterpillars for worms.

“There is a big difference between caterpillars and worms,” she says.

Worms are tubular invertebrates of the class annelid phylum – they do not undergo any transformation stage and remain worms throughout their lives.

Wilson says caterpillars have legs whilst worms never do. Worms also remain underground (like earthworms) whilst caterpillars are highly mobile above ground. If they are not underground then they can be found in other protected and moist environments like the intestines of hosts (like tapeworm, hookworm).

While worms are not as elegant or as beautiful as caterpillars, Wilson says some worms greatly benefit the environment, not only as a food source for other animals but also for their earth-tuning and composting abilities.

This content has been created as part of our freelancer relief programme. We are supporting journalists and freelance writers impacted by the economic slowdown caused by #lockdownlife.

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