Aloeides Dentatis: Web Page by Adelaar Highschool for CyberFair 96

Aloeides dentatis (Swierstra)

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Identification

The Roodepoort Copper belongs to the very large genus Aloeides which has some 50 species in southern Africa, most of which occur in the Cape Province. The characteristic pattern on the underside allows for easy identification of the Coppers. The male upperside is bright orange with black wing margins. The underside forewing is orange, with black spots and blackringed silver spots and the hindwing brown to purplish-crimson with scattered, silvery-grey and black markings. The sexes are very similar. The female has more rounded wings. The length of the male forewings are 14-18 mm and the female 15-19 mm.

Distribution

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The Roodepoort Copper is rare and only found in small, very localised colonies in the grassland biome in southern Transvaal, the north-eastern Orange Free State and western Lesotho. It is dependant on a hostplant (Hermannia depressa) and ants (Acantholepis capensis Mayr) to protect the larvae.

The larvae of this butterfly feeds on the small, prostrate herb "rooiopslag" Hermannia depressa (Sterculiaceae) but is also associated with ants (Acantholepis capensis Mayr). They shelter in ants' nests during the day and leave them during the night to feed on the hostplant. The hostplant is quite widespread but the ant appears to be confined to this area.

Behavior:

Life cycle Click to enlarge picture

The males have a fairly rapid, erratic flight, close to the ground, and remain within small, ill-defined territories. They generaly settle on small stones or on the ground or on low grass or plants and usually return to exactly the same stone or patch of sand.

Females fly at random within the colonial boundaries. Both sexes alight on the ground or on stones and rest with closed wings. They are quite difficult to see because of their cryptically marked undersides. Females spend a lot of time walking on the ground searching for the pheromone trails of the host ant.

The egg-laying behaviour is also a characteristic of this species as the female lays two eggs, side by side, on the underside of a leaf of the hostplant.

Larvae of the Aloeides butterflyClick to enlarge picture

The larval stages of the insect are spent in the nest of the ant Acantholepis capensis Mayr. The larvae release a pheromone which appears to mimic the brood pheromone of the ant, thereby misleading the ant into believing that the butterfly larvae are ant larvae. During the day the larvae remain safely in the ants nest and at night they emerge from the nest to feed on the foodplant. During these journeys the larvae apparently release a pheromone which mimics the alarm pheromone of the ant. This excites and attracts the ants to the butterfly larvae therby providing attendant bodyguards of ants while they are feeding. The larvae pupate in the ant nest and when the adults hatch they must run along the tunnels of the nest with their wings still unexpanded. They only expand their wings once they are out of the ant nest.

The adults are on the wing from August to April and the peak of the flight period is from October to December

Conservation

The problem of insect conservation, like butterflies, requires a different strategy to that of conventional conservation. The main threat to insects and other invertebrates is destruction and degradation of natural habitats through agriculture, urbanisation and alien introductions. Collecting of insects is rarely damaging to their populations.

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Aloeides Dentatis: Web Page by Adelaar Highschool, South Africa for CyberFair 96
Last Updated March 28, 1996
Email: mm@adelaar.jhb.school.za
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