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Butterflies – A Potential for Tourism Development in Uganda

A poster illustrating the six families of butt...


Butterflies, which are believed to have existed before man, are a diurnal group of insects of order Lepidoptera, under the phylum Anthropoda which comprise of about 16500 species.

In Uganda, there are about 1245 species of butterflies endowed with a variety of wing color patterns. The butterflies of Uganda belong to two super families, namely: Papilionoidea (true butterflies) and Hesperidia (skippers).

With this amazing track, Uganda, a popular destination in Africa for gorilla safaris is not only the best place for gorilla tracking but also for butterfly watching.

The super family Papilionoidea, where most of the butterfly fauna belong, consists of five families and several subfamilies including: family Papilionoidea swallow, family Pieridae (whites and yellow), family Lycaenidae (small to medium sized butterflies), and family Nymphalidae.

The butterflies undergo four stages of metamorphosis where an egg becomes a caterpillar then a pupae from which the adult butterfly hatches. This group of animals is strictly oviparous and females deposit their eggs on specific plant species. Thus the presence or absence of butterflies or moths is widely accepted as a reliable barometer of the general health of the environment in an area.

Another important feature of butterflies is their role in the pollination of forest trees and plants, their presence is prominently used in selection of sites for conservation.

Butterflies are also used in scientific research, this is due to their manageable size and the fact that most are readily identifiable even on the wing, they are also relatively easy to rear in captivity, and they can be used commercially in fine art designs and decorations.

Butterfly species have freely interacted with components of the environment and these have a direct influence on their diversity and abundance. There are symbolic relationships between the butterflies and the flowering plants, where the plants provide nutritional resources to the animals both in the nectar form for adult butterflies, and plant tissues such as leaves and soft stems for the caterpillars, the plants also provide shelter from predation a factor which increases butterfly diversity and abundance.

The distribution of these nutritional resources have also influenced the mating behaviour of the butterflies, where the males either patrol and seek females through an active search of habitats or wait for females in the locations where they are encountered, this avoids male to male sexual interactions.

However the population of butterflies is attacked at all stages by a wide range of predators, eggs are searched and eaten by beetles and ants, the pupae are attacked by rodents and adults are subjected to broad range of predators including the praying mantis, hunting spiders, chameleons, lizards, birds, and parasitoids. They are also attacked by diseases caused by a number of pathogens such as viruses like hedrosis, bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

Although they have little opportunity to learn to cope with enemies and diseases, butterflies have devised some defenses in order to be in equal equilibrium with the environment. There is a great diversity in the arrangement of eggs, sometimes they are deposited in a confused mass, but in most cases they are arranged in an orderly and systematic manner. This means that the larvae, which hatch from the upper end of the egg will not disturb the adjoining eggs.

Also butterflies don’t lay their eggs loosely, so that they can be driven by wind form place to place or washed away by rain, butterflies glue the eggs onto a plant which will also be the appropriate food for the caterpillars.

Whilst in the growing stage caterpillars produce a variety of toxic chemicals (mustard oil, glycosides, histamines and acetylcholine like substances,) other defenses include unpleasant taste, protective silk webs and possession of body hairs, also mimicry and color camouflage. This ensures certain levels of survival by driving off the predators and parasitoids.

Some butterflies have some deflective markings designed to direct a predator to attack a non vulnerable part of the butterfly, for example the marginal eye spot of the family Satyrinae and Nymphalidae. These groups are exposed to predators when they land. A lizard or a bird will rush in and has to make a split second decision about where to strike, often choosing the eye spot as they know that the eyes are good targets. This means the butterfly can fly safely away with just abit of wing missing.

Butterflies also use camouflage where their patterns merge with the background or with other inanimate objects, an example of this is the larvae of the Charaxes, which look like pinnate leaves, skippers roll up, hidden, in the tubes of grasses, others are furry or spiny to discourage the predators.

The dispersal of butterflies is favored by their excellent flying mobility, which is often extremely fast and erratic, this means predators like birds find it extremely difficult to follow and intercept them.

Dispersal may be activated by changes in the environment such as deterioration of the climate, and thus is often an adaptive response to unfavorable environmental conditions. Nocturnal and diurnal partitioning of the environment is another factor which has shaped defensive adaptation in the butterflies, adults of most species enjoy relative freedom from nocturnal predators because they are normally active and dispersed during the day and are totally inactive at night.

Visitors on a Uganda safari can see butterflies in various destinations that include Mabira forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale, Budongo Forest etc.

Jean Ankunda is a free lance writer with Abacus African Vacations, specialists in Uganda safaris, gorilla safaris and wildlife tours. More of her articles can be found on Uganda safari blog
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Tags: adult butterfly, butterfly fauna, phylum anthropoda, gorilla safaris, order lepidoptera

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