Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
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Shenton Safaris
African swallowtail, butterfly
African swallowtail © Alisa Bowen

The rolling savanna grass plains of the Maasai Mara may not automatically spring to mind as a hotspot for butterfly diversity; yet lepidopterists and amateur butterfly lovers alike are in for a treat when they visit this wildlife mecca.

The ancient riverine forest trees along the banks of the Mara River provide the perfect habitat for a plethora of butterflies and moths. Vibrant flowers attract the huge swallowtails (Papilionidae), and rotting fruit, tree sap and animal dung act like magnets for a variety of brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae).

African swallowtail, butterflies
African swallowtail © Alisa Bowen

Delicate, inconspicuous glass flowers attract some of the smallest species of the ‘blues’ and ‘coppers’ family (Lycaenidae).

The ‘whites’ and ‘yellows’ (Pieridae) are often seen drifting past on the breeze, sometimes briefly gathering in their hundreds to “mud-puddle” at moist patches found on the cool forest floor where they, along with members of the other families, soak up essential nutrients and minerals found in the tropical soil.

Narrow blue-banded swallowtail, butterflies
Narrow blue-banded swallowtail © Alisa Bowen

The best time to witness this spectacle of butterflies is during the rainy season (April – June and October – November), specifically, after a rain shower once the sun is shining and the air is warming up.

It’s handy to wear muted-coloured clothing and move quietly if you are hoping to photograph some of these animals.

African swallowtail, butterfly
African swallowtail (female) © Alisa Bowen
Constantine's swallowtail , butterflies
Constantine’s swallowtail © Alisa Bowen

Some of the fast flying charaxes can often be found congregating around wounds in tree trunks, where sap oozes out. Look carefully for these for they are extremely camouflaged when they keep their wings closed!

The green-veined charaxes is lovely with luminous green veins running across the underside of it’s wings.

Green-veined charaxes, butterfly
Green-veined charaxes © Alisa Bowen

High ISO, high shutter speed and a wide open aperture are important when trying to capture these often overlooked animals on safari.

Narrow blue-banded swallowtail, butterflies
Narrow blue-banded swallowtail © Alisa Bowen
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