Written, and photographs, by Vaughan Jessnitz from Bushwise
One of the most popular outdoors hobbies in South Africa is bird watching, and lots of people do this. Some travel around trying to see and ‘connect’ with as many species as possible. Some photograph them, and most have their binoculars and bird book close by, taking delight in watching all the beautiful species with their diverse colours, shapes, sizes and habits.
Compared to butterflies, birds are easy! They are usually larger, easier to observe, sit still for longer, and have the added element of song to help ID them. Butterflies on the other hand are usually fast, small, and silent, making them a far more daunting challenge to get to grips with.
In addition, the collecting of butterflies is no longer popular. Running around with a large net wildly swinging at an unsuspecting insect as it flutters just out of reach is something that will get you labelled a lunatic without much hesitation!
And so as many of us nature lovers would gladly observe the odd butterfly flying past, a little more attention is given to the wonderful world of butterflies in the form of ‘butterfly watching’.
However, for those wishing to delve into the concept of ‘butterfly watching’, this will not only become highly addictive and rewarding, but a new world will open to the observer! One of diversity, beauty, intrigue and admiration.
It will be frustrating at first. Very frustrating! Just like birding can be to a non-birder, butterflying is next level stuff!
Just like birds, butterfly families consist of the easy-to-ID, big and colourful ones that are fun to watch. Then, as you get more and more into this new hobby, you starts looking at what the birders would refer to as LBJ’s, (little brown jobs).
Butterflies have taken this a step further, with addition to the little brown jobs, there are what seems like billions of little blue jobs too, little orange jobs, and little white jobs. All sporting very similar problems as what the birders face with their LBJs.
However with some patience, we can get to grips with the diversity of these amazing insects, and then the butterfly world opens up to really show off its fun side!
Photographing butterflies comes with its own set of challenges, and if one ever thought photographing birds was tough, wait till you try butterflies! But again, the joy is in the achievement, and soon enough we find ourselves looking through the butterfly field guide, and hoping to tick off the butterflies one by one.
Holidays start to get centred around good ‘butterfly spots’. Summer is no longer just summer, but split into ‘spring emerging butterfly potential’, ‘hilltopping potential’, ‘late emergence potential’, ‘flower potential’ (as we all know most butterflies love flowers!).
We even start brewing weird concoctions of rotten fruit from age-old ‘secret recipes’ to attract certain types of butterflies. And then before you know it, the hobby has taken off!
The added bonus to butterfly watching, as opposed to birding, is that ever looming potential of sighting, and even better, photographing one of the many ultra rare species, or possibly even a completely new species! Whereas we are pretty sure we have discovered and know ALL the possible species of birds in South Africa, the same can not be said about butterflies, and every year new species are being found.
Butterflies also have various unique and fascinating life histories – different stages of life cycle from egg, caterpillar, pupa to adult – and these are just as interesting to learn and explore.
So whether you are running off to the highest peaks to spot that rare copper or blue, or sitting by the riverside watching the swallowtails fight for a place at the mud patch, butterfly watching could quite easily become your next hobby.
If you happen to be a birder, then it would be a perfect match as butterflying doesn’t mess with your birding time as they are mostly active in the middle of the day. Probably the most enticing aspect of butterfly watching is that just as it is fun running to some far away locality, you could quite easily find butterflies that are just as special in your own backyard!