The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.



Sunday, 17 June 2012

Mauritius - Butterflies - August 2011

Last summer my father treated my wife, two kids and me to a two-week holiday in Mauritius. He had offered to take us away on holiday anywhere we wanted and my wife and I were married there 13 years earlier. We had always intended to return, but the cost was prohibitive with the kids as well!! It was fantastic being back at the same hotel and the kids enjoyed the luxury of being at an all inclusive resort for the first time.
Although much of the island has been taken over by sugar cane plantations, the Hotel Maratim is set in 25 hectares of grounds where I was able to sneak off and look for butterflies!



Probably the most common butterfly I saw was the African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna. As the name suggests this little butterfly flew around the grass in the hotel grounds and fed on flowering shrubs such as Lantana.

It was rare to see them with their wings open, but as with many blues the upper side of the female was mostly brown while the male was blue with darker edging.
It was funny that the African Grass Blue was the butterfly that I set out to see in Spain in April without any luck. I then found it in Lanzarote and again in Mauritius.

The other blue that was regularly found flying around flowering shrubs was what is called the Common Blue in Mauritius, but I know it as Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous. The ones I saw in Mauritius seemed to be more heavily marked than those I have seen in Europe and I presume they are the subspecies insulanus, which is found in Mozambique. 

Another regular butterfly was the diminutive Tiny Grass Blue, Zizula hylax. This is the smallest butterfly I have ever seen with a wingspan of only about 15mm.
This butterfly was so tiny that my camera had trouble focusing on it. Most of my pictures ended up being deleted and none of them were perfectly in focus.

There was another blue that I could rely upon seeing each day - the Brown Playboy, Virachola antalus. This would often drop down from a tree onto the ground just like a falling leaf. It is also cleverly marked with a false eye and tails that look like antennae at the ends of its wings. These markings can often save the life of the butterfly when birds peck at the wrong end resulting in the butterfly losing a bit of its wings, but surviving to fly another day.


I found a bush in a corner of the grounds of the hotel (since identified as a String Bush, Cordia cylindristachya) that must have regularly hosted over 100 of the above four species of butterflies. I regularly visited it and spent ages checking out each butterfly looking for Clover Blues, Zizina antanossa. This butterfly is almost identical to the African Grass Blue, but it is lacking one spot on the underside of the fore wing. I didn't find any, but while I was looking I found a couple of other butterflies. This is a faded Plains Cupid, Chilades pandava demonstrating what happens when it has been attacked by a bird having lost its eye spots and tails. This butterfly was first recorded in Mauritius in 2000 and is now considered a pest as its caterpillars feed on Sago Palms.

And this is a sub-species of the African Line Blue, Pseudonacaduba sichela reticulum, which only occurs on Mauritius. I only saw it very briefly and it flew over the other side of the bush, so I was very pleased to get this picture.

This is a rather poor picture of a not very colourful butterfly! It is the Olive Haired Swift, Borbo borbonica. I disturbed it when I was walking in some grass and it flew up in front of me, briefly landed and then flew off and I wasn't able to find it again.

The other Hesperiidae I saw was a little easier to see. It was the Striped PolicemanCoeliades forestan abrogates. I regularly saw this feeding on Lantana plants, but it was never still. It would constantly vibrate its wings while it was feeding.

A much more colourful butterfly, and the one I really wanted to see was the Brilliant Blue, Junonia rhadama. I saw it most days, but it was very difficult to approach. This is a female, which can be identified by having two eye spots on each hind wing.
And this is a male, with only one eye spot and brighter blue wings. It took me a long time to manage to sneak up close enough for this picture!
The colour varied depending on how the sun hit the wings. Sometimes it was very bright blue and other times it was more of a purple colour.
The underside wasn't as bright, but still beautifully marked.

The Common Leopard, Phalanta phalantha was another regular in the hotel grounds. Like the Striped Policeman it never seemed to stop flapping its wings! However, one day, when it clouded over, I came across three of them sitting on the ground with their wings open.

On a number of occasions I saw a small yellow butterfly whiz past me, flying close to the ground. One day I decided to follow one, expecting that is must stop flying at some point. I think I followed it for about half an hour until the sun went behind a cloud and it settled on the ground. This one turned out to be Eurema floricola, the Malagasy Grass Yellow. The forewing of this super little butterfly is only about 20mm long and the upper side of the wings have a narrow black border.
Eurema brigitta, the Broad-Bordered Grass Yellow also occurs in Mauritius, but it isn't as bright yellow as the Malagasy Grass Yellow.

Henotesia narcissus narcissus is a kind of Bush Brown but I don't think it has a common name. They were usually found in wooded areas, dropping to the ground from the trees. 

This is the underside of  Henotesia narcissus narcissus.

On the second morning of our holiday I checked out a flower bed in the hotel grounds close to our room. Amongst the butterflies there was this black and white one. I took some pictures and then became distracted by the other butterflies there. At the time I didn't have a butterfly book for the island, but a few days later I bought one in Port Louis. I was then able to identify this as Hypolimnas anthedon drucei, a butterfly that has only been recorded a few times in Mauritius, the last time being 1957!! It is much more common in Madagascar, but that is over 600 miles away. It makes me wonder whether this species has quietly been living in Mauritius, unnoticed, or if this one somehow arrived here from Madagascar.

One evening when we were walking  back to our room I spotted a butterfly on the wall of the covered walkway. It was a Common Evening Brown, Melanitis leda. These butterflies tend to fly in the evening as it is going dark. When I had seen them flying on previous days I had thought that they were large moths.

All of the above photographs were taken in the hotel grounds. We did see a number of butterflies in other places around the island, but there was never the opportunity to photograph them. Other species that I saw included the African Migrant, Catopsilia florella. This large white or yellow butterfly was quite common, but I never saw one at rest. There is a similar butterfly, Catopsilia thauruma, which comes in either a pale or bright yellow, but this is less common than the African Migrant. A couple of times I saw a Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus, flying past, although neither times did it land. The final butterfly I saw as the Citrus Swallowtail, Papilio demodocus, which is quite a rapid flyer. It was another butterfly that sadly didn't stop for a photograph!

We visited the Isles aux Aigrettes, which is an island nature reserve run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. It is a fascinating place, where they are trying to eradicate non-native plant species and protect endemic flora and fauna. We learned a lot from their very informative guide. 

Giant tortoises have been reintroduced onto the island as they are an important link in the chain for the germination of some seeds.

This is a Mauritius Fody. There were only a handful of them left because the Madagascar Fody had out-competed them. Now, thanks to a breeding programme they are being re-introduced onto the Mauritian mainland.

This is an Ornate Day Gecho, which is also struggling since the introduction of the rather dull gecko from Madagascar.

There were many sad stories of once numerous species that have either become endangered or extinct. The most famous of which is the dodo. This is a Pink Pigeon, which had declined to fewer than 10 individuals in 1990 before a rescue programme that has resulted in there now being over 400 on Mauritius.

Sadly there is less than 2.5% of the native forest left on Mauritius. Much of what I had thought was native forest was made up of introduced species. The ebony forests have mostly been cut down. The last time we were there we visited the Black River Gorge, which is the main area that remains of native forest. It is a lovely area, but sadly we didn't get a chance to visit it this year. I believe that I would have seen some different butterflies if we had managed to go there this time.

The butterfly book that I bought lists 38 species on Mauritius, but some of these are rare migrants and others are now considered extinct. I think that it would be more realistic to say that somewhere around 30 species occur on Mauritius. I was lucky enough to see 17 species of butterflies, most of them new to me, which isn't bad considering it was winter when we visited!


We'll definitely be going back in the future!

18 comments:

  1. Nick, your pictures are beautiful. I just took a photo of Junonia rhadama yesterday while on a hike to the highest peak of Mauritius. She was right at the top and was very accommodating, posing for many moments. Without your blog, I would never have learnt more about this lovely butterfly. Thank you :)

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    1. Hi Beryl. I am glad that my blog has been helpful. We will definitely return to Mauritius. We love it! I really would like to climb some of the mountains to see a different side of the island and I certainly will visit the Black River Gorge area to do some walking.

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  2. Hi nick could you help me identify a mauritian butterfly photo of its caterpillar ?

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    1. Hi Eric, I would be happy to try. Can you send me a link to the picture or do you want to e-mail it to me?

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  3. Hi Nick, a really helpful posting!
    I've just returned from 2 weeks in Mauritius, and was really kicking myself for forgetting my macro lens. I still managed to take some butterfly shots with the 100-400 lens but obviously not as sharp or detailed as I'd have liked, and I had no hope of getting any ID's until I found this post. I saw most of the species that you have listed here - though didn't do as well on the blues.
    Many thanks for the great post, and providing all my ID's in one hit.
    Re the Hypolimnas anthedon drucei, I saw lots of these, both around the Black river gorge area and also up at Bras D'eau ( a new reserve near Flacq). So looks like your book is not up to speed. I am still processing 2000 plus shots but will eventually get them all up on my flickr site (http://www.flickr.com/photos/85387952@N00/)- still on birds so far!

    Thanks again for a great post,

    kind regards, Martin Parr
    martindparr@hotmail.com

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    1. Martin,
      Thanks for your comments. I am very pleased that you found the post helpful. I started this blog with the hope that it would be useful for people looking for information about butterflies from places I had been.
      It is great to hear that Hypolimnas anthedon is thriving there. I sent my picture to the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation to confirm my ID and they were excited to hear that it had been seen, confirming that there had been no recent sightings. Of course it could have been there for years, but just not recorded. I and pleased to hear that it is doing well now.
      You have some great pictures on Flickr. I look forward to seeing your butterfly pictures from Mauritius if you wouldn't mind telling me when you have loaded them.
      Nick

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  4. What a place; and you got great varieties. That lizard is exotic.

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    1. It is a very special place. I would love to go back there soon!

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  5. What a great place! And that Brilliant Blue is spectacular. So interesting the mix between Asian and African Butterflies. Sadly, I lost almost all of my Africa Butterflies in a computer crash. It makes me want to cry! And go back again :). It's so cool that you got to go back here with your whole family and revisit!

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    1. Mauritius is a very special place for us and we definitely plan to return again one day. There is a lot of development going on and much of the natural environment has been destroyed. There are only about 30 species of butterfly found there, but they are all very interesting and it's fun to speculate how some of the species arrived there. It must be heart-breaking to loose all your pictures. When I traveled around Africa digital cameras hadn't been invented!!!

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  6. Thanks Nick. Very useful blog. I am in Mauritius now....I will let you know what I have seen. Regards

    Dougy

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    1. Thank you Dougy. I am pleased that you found the blog useful. I would be really interested to hear how you get on in Mauritius. I would love to go back there. Black River Gorge is somewhere I would like to return to.

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  7. I am so glad I came across your blog as I am currently in Mauritius and am attempting to put names to some of the butterfly species I have seen. You mention a book in your post - do you know if it is available online? Otherwise I will just keep an eye out in the local shops. Many thanks, Josie

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    1. Hi Josie,
      I bought the book in the shopping mall in Port Louis. As far as I am aware it isn't available on line. If I can be of any help with ID you could e-mail me a link to your pictures.

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  8. I read your blog. It is very interesting as it is about the Mauritius.
    Mauritius is a place where you can have fun and enjoy your holidays.
    We offer Mauritius holidays package at very cheap price and all the packages are in the budget. So please have a look at our offers

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    1. Happy to host your SPAM as long as you give me a free family holiday to Mauritius!

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  9. Very many thanks, Nick. We are going in August and I hope to find some 'flies to photograph. Mauritius butterfly books are hard to come by in the UK, but I'll look out when we arrive. We shall certainly visit the black River Gorge and 'll let you know how we get on. Tony M.

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    1. Hi Tony, I am so pleased that my blog has been a help. This time we didn't get to explore the island much, but sill saw all of these species in our hotel grounds. We certainly want to return soon and I look forward to having more than a compact camera! I would be very interested to hear how you get on.

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