Confirmation of the presence of Celiades lorenzo in the Mpumalanga lowveld?
by I C Sharp
The Red-tab Policeman (Coeliades keithloa) has previously been classified as two separate subspecies i.e. C. k. keithloa and C. k. lorenzo (Pringle, Henning & Ball (eds.), 1994). In Woodhall (2005) however the two are separated into two distinct species i.e. C. k. keithloa and C. lorenzo.
The distribution of the two ‘sub-species’ has been unclear according to Pringle, Henning & Ball (eds.) (1994). The exact identification of the sub-species found in the previously named Transvaal province was unclear. Other than visual sightings in the Kruger National Park, Wolkberg and Blyderivierspoort Nature Reserve, no other evidence was available to separate or confirm the ‘sub-species’ occurring in what is now the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces’ lowveld region.
Woodhall (2005) describes the distribution of C. lorenzo as from northern KwaZulu-Natal north into Mozambique. The distribution of C. k. keithloa is more widespread ranging from as far south as the Eastern Cape Province (Port Elizabeth), through the coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal Province, into the lowveld of the Mpumalanga Province and up to the Soutpansberg of the Limpopo Province.
The author has since noted and/or recorded some sightings of what is thought to have been C. keithloa in the Mpumalanga Province. The first of which was at Orpen Gate of the KNP where an individual was seen at dusk but took flight before it could be photographed. The second sighting occurred in the forests of the Mariepskop Mountain where a single individual was seen and photographed (SABCA VM No. 16264). These sightings concur with those described for C. keithloa in Pringle, Henning & Ball (eds.) (1994) i.e. Satara in the KNP and the Blyderivierspoort Nature Reserve.
A discovery was however made that indicates that C. lorenzo occurs in the Mpumalanga lowveld. The following account of events leading to the discovery will provide a more complete picture.
During a visit to a lodge in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve 04 February 2010, together with Vaughan Jessnitz, photographs of butterflies around the lodge were being taken for the SABCA project. At one point I was called by Vaughan to look at a ‘policeman’ butterfly that was ovipositing on a shrub. A number of photographs were taken for the submission to the SABCA Virtual Museum. The butterfly was identified as Coeliades anchises anchises and this was confirmed (VM No. 11454) by the experts of the VM.
On that day no consideration was given to collecting of the eggs for breeding purposes. This turned out to be a source of regret especially as at a later stage a variety of butterfly eggs and larvae were collected to get photographs of the different lifecycle stages.
The larval food plant was identified as Triaspis glaucophylla from the photographs of C. a. anchises from later photographs of the flowers (Photo 4).
On subsequent visits to the lodge attempts were made to once again locate the T. glaucophylla bush but it had been destroyed by foraging animals. By pure chance a larger plant was found scrabbling in a raisin bush only 10m from the site of the original. It was only on the third visit to this bush that two ‘policeman’ larvae were spotted.
It was an overcast day and this had been the trump card! As soon as the cloud cover broke and the sun came shinning through, Mr. Larva rushed off into his hideaway of leaves expertly woven together.
His escape was too late and he was collected to get photographs the life cycle stages and obviously the expected adult C. a. anchises. The upkeep of the larva was difficult in that the food plant was not readily available in the area where I lived. A local botanist was consulted and showed us some locations where sufficient food could be found to ensure the completion of the larval phase. A beautiful white chrysalis formed (Photo 2) and the expectation was growing.
What a surprise when from out of the chrysalis pops a ‘red-tab’ policeman (Photo 4)!
The books were quickly drawn closer and consulted to check if T. glaucophylla was listed as a larval food plant for C. k. keithloa. It was not but something else was also strange as pointed out by my wife: the colour of the larva collected (Photo 1) did not match that of the photograph depicted in What’s that butterfly (Woodhall, 2008). A photograph of a larva taken in the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve in February 2008 and submitted to SABCA (VM No. 1622), was different too. This was also identified as C. k. keithloa.
To quell the curiosity the series of photographs were forwarded to Andre Coetzer for comment. His response indicated that, other than genital dissection, the only way to positively separate the two species was to find the larva. The photograph of the larva was evidence enough to positively identify the butterfly as C. lorenzo, resulting in an extension of its known range.
It appears therefore that according to the events above, Coeliades lorenzo is alive and well, living in the Mpumalanga Lowveld utilizing the same larval food plant as Coeliades anchises anchises!
Mecenero, S. 2011. South African Butterfly Conservation Assessment. sabca,adu.org.za.
Pringle, E. L. L., G. A. Henning & A. J. Ball (Eds.). 1994. Pennington’s butterflies of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town
Woodhall, S. 2005. Field guide to the butterflies of South Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
Woodhall, S. 2008. What’s that butterfly? Struik Publishers, Cape Town.