When one dreams of all the magic to be experienced in the Masai Mara, a variety of beautiful, iridescent butterfly species might not spring to mind. However, lepidopterists and amateur butterfly lovers alike are in for quite a surprise when they visit this diverse and unique wildlife haven, teeming with biodiversity in the northernmost section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. Guests of Governors’ camps can enjoy lovely sightings of fluttering butterflies which provides some contrasting photographic opportunities alongside the Big Five!
Constantine’s swallowtail – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Governors’ camps are tucked away amongst the ancient riverine forest trees that hug the course of the meandering Mara River. Unbeknown to most people, this is a perfect habitat for some of the smaller, often unnoticed species including a plethora of butterflies, moths and insects. Depending on the time of year that you visit the Mara, you could be lucky to witness some colourful cascades of butterfly behaviour taking place around you. 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.
African Mocker swallowtail (female) – photo credit Alisa Karstad
The Mara welcomes rain in April which releases a whole regrowth of grasses and carpets of wild, vibrant flowers which attract the huge Swallowtail (Papilionidae) variety, while a profusion of delicate, tiny wildflowers such as Kleinia Abyssinica flowers, hidden between the grasses on the plains, attracts some of the smallest species of the ‘blues and coppers’ family (Lycaenidae). The wet weather creates the perfect conditions for rotting fruit together with tree sap and animal dung, acting like magnets for the ‘brush-footed’ variety of butterflies (Nymphalidae).
African Mocker swallowtail – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Why do butterflies congregate around puddles? Perhaps one of the most recognisable behavioural traits of butterflies, one that we are all familiar with but possibly have not given much thought to, is ‘mud puddling’ – a common sight throughout the Governors’ campgrounds. 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.
Yellow pansy ‘mud-puddling’ – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Narrow blue-banded swallowtail – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Noble swallowtail – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Some of the fast flying Green-veined charaxes can often be found gathering around wounds in tree trunks, where the sap oozes out. Look carefully for these as they are extremely camouflaged when they keep their wings closed, but when opened, you will see luminous green veins running across the underside of its wings.
Green-veined charaxes – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Governors’ Camp has a wonderful butterfly garden where we have planted a multitude of brightly coloured, nectar and pollen-rich flowers with strong scents such as marigolds and Zinnias, which attracts the adult butterflies.
Butterfly garden at Governors’ Camp – photo credit Will Fortescue
It’s handy to wear muted-coloured clothing, move quietly and use a high ISO, a high shutter speed and a wide open aperture if you are hoping to photograph some of these spectacular but often overlooked animals on safari.
Butterfly garden at Governors’ Camp – photo credit Alisa Karstad
By Alisa Karstad, Community & Conservation Manager, Governors’ Camp Collection.