Imagine a million or more butterflies undergoing a migration in South Africa. Well, the African Migrant (Catopsilia florella) does that at times. They occur across almost the whole of South Africa and in some years start a migration to the north-east of the country. You probably won’t see a million butterflies in one big flock but rather a continuous flow of these insects all heading in the same direction. If they do migrate it normally occurs between November and January.
The males have a wingspan of around 5.5 cm and the females are slightly bigger at 6 cm. Females are more yellow on the underside of their wings. They are very similar to Buquet’s Vagrant (Nepheronia buquetii) but that species has green eyes. The African Migrant never has green eyes.
Does the African Migrant visit gardens?
These butterflies are found in a variety of habitats including forest edges, wetlands, and arid savanna but they are quite at home in parks and gardens. Although they are found across almost all of South Africa their biggest population is found in the arid savanna regions of the North West province. The African Migrant can be seen at any time during the year as there are multiple broods over the course of a year. The larvae feed on a variety of shrubs but particularly those from the Senna genus and some of the species of Cassia.
Beyond South Africa’s borders this butterfly may be found over much of Africa including Madagascar and the Canary Islands. In other parts of Africa they may be referred to as the African Vagrant or Common Vagrant.
Another butterfly that undertakes a similar migration in huge numbers is the Brown-veined White. Their “migration” is actually a one-way trip with the adults dying presumably in the ocean. I can only assume that the African Migrant also undertakes a one-way trip as they are not seen flying back to where they came from. During this long flight the females regularly lay eggs which helps to disperse the species.