Walking or driving almost anywhere in Mountainlands during summertime one is enthralled by moving colour flashes everywhere. Butterflies abound and taking a closer look reveals a staggering variety.

While Mountainlands is also home to a vast number of insects and arachnids, of particular interest are the butterflies of which there are three endemic red data species that are known to occur on the reserve. Due to the rugged terrain, inaccessibility of many areas and relative little research that has been done, it is likely that even more butterfly species may yet be discovered.


The three endemic butterflies are: Aloeides barbarae, Lepidochrysops swanepoeli and Lepidochrysops jefferyi. Their habitats are referred to as “hotspots”, which are very specific in their definition and is a term used globally for areas with high levels of endemism that also face exceptional threats of extinction. Therefore the protection of their habitats, which in some instances are no larger than a soccer field, is of paramount importance.


The Lepidopterist’s Society of Africa (Gauteng branch) conducts field trips in the reserve to gather information related to the life cycle, abundance, diversity and distribution of Lepidoptera within the reserve. Specific attention is paid to the red-data species and to record observations regarding habitat and potential threats. On a field trip they made the following observations:

Aloeides barbarae: The butterfly was relatively abundant and was found over an area extending about 1km east from the type locality, ‘The Pimple’ at 1130m. The butterfly is possibly less endangered than previously thought, although continuous monitoring is necessary. A female was observed ovipositing on grass, which may mean the larvae of this species do not feed on plants and are entirely ant-dependent. Further research is required. We saw a female inspecting a small plant with hairy, pointed leaves – she was antennating and had her abdomen curved as if wanting to oviposit but she did not lay an egg. A photograph, by Keith Roos, was shown at the International Lepidopterist’s Conference at Potchefstoom: the female was sitting on the same plant. It is possible that this is the food plant (we will try and identify the plant species from the photograph).

Lepidochrysops jefferyi
and swanepoeli: Lepidochrysops jefferyi were found in reasonable numbers (this butterfly is seldom common). L. swanepoeli were scarce: we were probably between emergences. These species are single-brooded but their emergence is prolonged and peak emergence for the two species may not overlap i.e. swanepoeli was not at its peak, or it had already passed its peak. 1155m and 1130m.

Orachysops lacrimosa: A few specimens of Orachrysops were caught, which have provisionally been listed as O. lacrimosa (Locality 1150m). The specimens appear to show differences to lacrimosa however – Graham Henning is to perform a genitalia study shortly, as this may represent a new species.

Other species: A total of 68 butterfly species were positively identified during our visit (refer to the detailed list included with this document). Download the list here …

Habitat: The general condition of the grassland areas is excellent: wild flowers, notably Becium grandiflorum (the larval food plant of many Lepidochysops species) abounded. No indications of overgrazing or misuse of the reserve were apparent.

Information and photographs, all taken on Mountainlands, supplied by the Lepidopterist’s Society of Africa – Gauteng Branch.

One of the most peculiar insects coming from Barberton was the king cricket (Libansidus vittatus) that belongs to the family Anostotomatidae.  Commonly known as the Parktown prawn it was first described by William Forsell Kirby in 1899. The primary specimen, was collected in Barberton and is housed in the British Museum (Natural History).

Arachnids from the area were also collected and presented to the South Africa Museum in Cape Town by Dr Percy J Rendall who moved to Barberton in 1894.

Fast forwarding more than a hundred years and the research into the insects of the area continues on Mountainlands with entomologists visiting to collect and study them. Ants, beetles and dragonflies are some of the species that are of specific interest as the area can be home to new species. However, research into the identification of these take a long time to complete.