Butterflies are a symbol of beauty and always catch the eye of many. Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, has her rich green environment decorated with a diversity of these amazingly adorned invertebrates.
Butterflies fall under the order Lepidoptera of scientific classification, and with them are the moths. These are said to be the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders around the world. The earliest evidence of butterfly existence is the fossils from the Cretaceous Period of evolution.
It has been noted that Uganda is home to approximately 1300 species of butterflies, including 31 endemics; not to mention the different sub-species that fall therein. This accounts for about 33% of all insect species in tropical Africa.
Just as mentioned above, there are very many species of butterflies in Uganda. These have been classified into five families and they include the following: Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae, Nymphalidae, and Hesperiidae.
Uganda is able to sustain butterflies because of her highly favorable temperate climate and rich plant cover, call it vegetation. This is due to the fact that most butterflies feed on plant material and mostly thrive in cool places with moderate temperatures. Others like the swallowtails feed on mammal dung.
Most of Uganda’s butterflies are found in her forests and other vegetated areas with no much human interruption. Forests like Bwindi (in the Albertine Rift), Kibaale, Semliki, and Kalinzu are habitats to most of Uganda’s butterflies. Others however can be spotted in areas around human settlements.
Butterflies like other insects, reproduce by laying eggs. The entire process is in four stages; egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The larva of the butterfly is also known as the caterpillar and many people dread it as contact with it can cause skin irritation. It is astonishing that out of the frightful-looking caterpillar comes something so mush to be admired- the butterfly.
For one to really appreciate butterflies, they have to have a mind for art. Butterflies are a wonder of creation, each species having those special features that make it look different from another. They are made in different colors and shapes, and in the days of bloom, they embellish the atmosphere with their hues- a very awesome sight. These colors are generated from their scales containing pigments, aided by the refraction of light.
Aside from just being breathtaking, butterflies are also very instrumental in building the environment. Butterflies, just like other insects for example bees, aid in pollination, a process necessary if plants are to flourish.
They keep the food chain active; feeding on plants and in turn, reptiles, amphibians, and birds feed on them as well, and the chain continues…
The prevalence of butterflies in the environment is one of those indicators that it is in good shape. That is why in countries with high levels of pollution from industrial waste, butterflies are quite uncommon, and only to be found in the undefiled countryside which can still support vegetation.
Butterflies have been made in such a way that they can adapt to their different environments. Their unique coloration is not just for show. In most cases, it is a form of camouflage, a defense mechanism against predators. Some butterflies have “eyes” on their wings and these keep their enemies at bay.
Despite their great diversity and number, butterflies continue to be endangered, with a number of species becoming extinct. This has been attributed to the destruction of their natural habitats, forcing their communities to disperse. With global warming, a number of butterfly species is diminishing.
Conservation measures thus have to be taken, for example the planting of flowering plants and trees, protection of wetlands and grasslands, among others, in order to preserve these winged treasures.
By Enid Nabumati