Monday, July 6, 2020

BUTTERFLIES OF KIBALE FOREST NATIONAL PARK, Uganda, Part 2, Guest Post by Karen Minkowski

A mixed species group of butterflies feeds on wet dung in Kibale National Park, Uganda.
My friend Karen Minkowski, truly an intrepid tourist, has spent much of her life in the field observing wild animals. She spent several months last year in Africa, including time in Kibale National Park. In this three part post she shares her photos and observations of some of the wildlife there, particularly the wonderful diversity of butterflies. Part 3 will post next week.

I usually returned to the forest on my own in the late afternoon, with camera and binoculars, but I never wandered more than a kilometer or so from my house, which was right at the forest edge. Monkeys were usually close by, feeding, grooming, squabbling. Eager to venture deeper into the forest, but wary of elephants, I hired Richard, a former field assistant from the local community as my guide for weekend walks.

Richard listens for elephants before we descend into a swamp
(a favorite elephant feeding habitat) and cross to the other side of the mountain.
Most of the butterflies I photographed were either warming themselves on foliage, their wings open to the morning sun, or feeding on feces of forest mammals, such as elephants and monkeys. It was the rainy season, when a heavy downpour can soften and dilute the dung to a soupy mixture that attracts clusters of butterflies as well as other insects. They stand in the liquid dung and drink up the nutrients, a feeding behavior biologists call 'mud-puddling'. Male butterflies are primarily seeking sodium, a scarce mineral in plants that may improve their reproductive success. 

Lachnoptera anticlea, the Western Blotched Leopard, left;  note the silver-grey scent patch on the hind wing.

Common Leopard Fritillary (Phalanta phalantha), right.
Red Glider.
This Red Glider (Cymothoe hobarti) is mud-puddling. Its proboscis is extended forward from the head to the ground, serving as “a built in sipping straw,” as scientist Freerk Molleman aptly described it.

Mud-puddling in full swing. Green banded-swallowtails (Papilio phorcas) surround the Central Emperor Swallowtail (Papilio lormieri).

We were watching the glider and other butterflies in the wet patch when, much to our delight, a family of chimpanzees ambled down the trail and stole our attention...until they and their accompanying research team moved on.

The gorgeously patterned African map butterfly, foreground.

Behind, an Actinote species.
The screams, grunts and threat sounds coming from monkeys and chimps throughout the day signaled a fight or a perceived or actual threat. High drama also occurs among insects.
Crossley's Forest Queen and ant.
Crossley's Forest Queen with ant on its proboscis.
One afternoon I sat on the ground to watch the lovely Crossley's Forest Queen (Euxanthe crossleyi, aka Charaxes crossleyi) feeding on dung and noticed an ant approaching it. Seconds later the ant had stepped onto the butterfly's extended proboscis and moved close to its face, as seen in the blurred image above. The butterfly vigorously shook itself, dislodging the ant, and flew a short ways off, perhaps to calm its nerves before returning to feed. (The butterfly in the two photos is the same individual; the color was affected by automatic changes in camera settings.)

I am very grateful to Dr. David Tumusiime and Mr. Innocent Kato for welcoming me as a volunteer at the Makerere University Biological Field Station and for their hospitality and support during my stay from April 9 to June 19, 2019. Many others on the MUBFS staff and in the Kanyawara community helped me as well. I thank Nelson Guma of Uganda Wildlife Authority for expediting permission for me to reside and work in Kibale for that time period. It was a remarkable experience that I will always treasure. Thanks to Dr. Freerk Molleman, who kindly made available for download his Butterflies of Uganda: Kibale Forest (2012) and also identified some of my photos. Likewise, Dr. Sille Holm identified several moths and the family of a moth larva. I also consulted The Anglia Ruskin University guide to butterflies of Kibale Forest, Uganda, by Alvin J. Helden, Fabrizio Manco and Sophie Mowles, v.2 (2018); A Field Guide to the Butterflies of East Africa, by John G. Williams (1969); and the internet. Any errors in identification are my own.


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