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wildlife of Namibia

Butterflies live almost anywhere in the world, with tropical rain forests being the most popular habitat. Deserts, woodlands, fields and mountain tops also play their part in hosting these beautiful insects. Their main feature is undoubtedly their multi-coloured wings, arranged in superb patterns. Butterfly originates from the Old English word buterfleoge meaning 'butter' and 'flying creature'. Both butterflies and moths form an insect group called Lepidoptera. This name comes from 2 Greek words lepis meaning 'scale' and pteron for 'wing'. This title refers to the powdery scale which covers the 2 pairs of wings on both butterflies and moths. Butterflies differ from moths in a number of ways though:

  • Most butterflies fly during the day. Most moths fly at dusk or at night.
  • The antennae of most butterflies are 'knobbed'. The antennae of most moths are not 'knobbed'.
  • Many species of butterfly have slender, hairless bodies. The majority of moths have plump, furry bodies.
  • Most butterflies rest with their wings held upright over their bodies whereas most moths rest with their wings spread out flat.
  • Butterflies are usually brightly coloured, moths are mainly dull brown. Day-flying moths are colourful as are some nocturnal species.
  • The fore and hind wings of a butterfly beat together as they overlap. The wings of a moth are held together by a 'frenulum' holding them together in flight.
  • The pupae of a butterfly are often naked, forming outdoors in the open. The pupae of moths form underground or in a sturdy cocoon.

Habitats: Butterflies favour certain types of land and terrain. Good places to look for them include rivers, hilltops, forest paths and clearing. Groups of butterfly do not necessarily stick to the same habitat and can often be found in more than one. They can regularly be found in town areas, small gardens attract many species, botanical gardens even more. Large forests will attract certain types, look down on the forest floor as well as up into the canopy. Don't forget butterflies clearings and paths either. Always lookout for good nectar plants. as well as forest streams and rivers where they display patrolling behaviour and mud puddle which they use for drinking. Many flowering plants grow along river banks.

Nectar Plants: Huge assemblies or 'clouds' of butterfly are attracted to a number of indigenous plants. Unfortunately this preference includes the aliens species of lantana (Lantana camara) and tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). Two indigenous species of plant that are irresistible to certain butterflies are:

Smooth tinderwood (Clerodendrum glabrum): This is an evergreen or semi-deciduous shrub (or small tree) that grows up to 6m. Butterflies are attracted to the white, tubular petals. The fruit is a round, fleshy berry. Crushed leaves can be used as an insect repellent. Smooth tinderwood can be found near Epupa Falls and other areas nearby on the Kunene River. They attract the White-barred Acraea.

Mesembryanthemum spp: There are 4 species of Mesembryanthemum found scattered in south-west Namibia including Fish River Canyon. Large numbers of Pan Opal, Bars and Coppers nectar on their flowers.

The life cycle of a butterfly:

The life of an adult butterfly centres entirely around reproduction, beginning with courtship. Sight and smell are 2 important factors and once a suitable mate has been selected, the process begins. Soon after mating the male butterfly dies and the female begins her search for a suitable place to lay her eggs.

  • A butterfly is an insect. All insects lay eggs after mating. The female butterfly lays her eggs on a suitable food plant, often detected by smell.
  • The eggs hatch into larvae, or small immature caterpillars.
  • The caterpillar spends the majority of its time eating, outgrowing the skin which does not grow.
  • Each skin is shed and a number of moults take place.
  • Usually there are between 4 to 6 moults.
  • Each stage between these moults is called an instar.
  • Once fully grown the caterpillar rests where a chrysalis or pupa develops inside the final caterpillar skin.
  • Eventually the skin splits and the chrysalis emerges.
  • Inside the chrysalis, a butterfly will gradually take shape.
  • The shell then breaks open and out comes the adult butterfly.
  • The wings expand and off it flies to find a mate and reproduce!

Butterfly anatomy: The body of a butterfly consists of 3 sections:

The head: This is the centre of sensation and bears the butterflies eyes, antennae and mouthparts.

  • Compound eyes are on each side of the head, consisting of thousands of minute lenses. An image of every part of the surroundings is provided by each lens and the brain then combines these images into an overall view.
  • Between the eyes are 2 long, slender antennae. The antennae are a butterfly's organs of smell, used to locate food and to find a partner. They probably serve as hearing and touch organs.
  • A butterfly caterpillar has chewing mouthparts composed of 2 lips and 2 pairs of jaws. These components re-form as a caterpillar morphs into an adult butterfly. One pair of jaws almost disappears and the other becomes a proboscis, or a long sucking tube. It coils up when not in use and the lips create a sheath for the proboscis. The butterfly uses this proboscis to suck in nectar and other liquids.

The thorax: This is the middle section of a butterfly's body. There is a short neck that connects the thorax to the insect's head. Attached to the thorax are the adult wings and the 6 legs of the larva and adult.

The abdomen: Carries a butterfly's sexual organs and the gut for digesting food and getting rid of waste products.

Other parts of a butterfly include:

Wings: Butterflies have 4 wings. There are 2 forewings and 2 hindwings with a network of veins running through them. Blood is pumped through the veins to warm the wings. Butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 30°C. Thousands of minute overlapping scales form the wing patterns and colouration.

Legs: Butterflies have 3 pairs of legs, each leg consisting of 5 essential segments. The joints between the segments allow a butterfly to move its legs in a variety of directions. At the end of each leg is a pair of claws and hairy pads, used to grip surfaces. The hairs on the pads are taste organs. Even though butterflies can walk it is only for short distances.

Internal organs: There are 5 main systems that make up a butterfly's internal organs. They are:

  • Circulatory: Carries the blood throughout the body.
  • Nervous: Consists of a brain, located in the head, and 2 nerve cords that run through the thorax and abdomen.
  • Respiratory: Carries oxygen to the cells of the body and removes carbon dioxide.
  • Digestive: A long tube that extends from the mouth to the anus.
  • Reproductive: Butterflies reproduce sexually.


There are 10 families recognized in southern Africa, 9 can be found in Namibia. They are:

  • Family Nymphalidae, subfamily Danainae: Milkweed or Monarch butterflies.
  • Family Nymphalidae, subfamily Satyrinae: Browns
  • Family Nymphalidae, subfamily Acraeinae: Acraeas.
  • Family Nymphalidae, subfamily Nymphalinae: Nymphs and Commodores.
  • Family Nymphalidae, subfamily Charaxinae: Charaxes.
  • Family Lycaenidae: Blues and Coppers.
  • Family Pieridae: Whites.
  • Family Papilionidae: Swallowtails.
  • Family Hesperidae: Skippers.


This family are medium-sized to large, colourful butterflies. Their distribution is widespread.


This family can be easily identified by their orange and black, or white and black, spotted wings. Dark scales outline their veins. They are often seen flying along the warmer edges of roadways and forests, their characteristic slow flapping motion only giving way to rapid flight when disturbed.

Notably strong and difficult to kill when captured, some species of this family hold significant amounts of lethal toxins. Some species of bird will vomit when swallowing a danaine butterfly. Their eggs are dome-shaped and prominently ribbed. Other breeding features include smooth-skinned, brightly coloured larvae and pupae which is suspended head down from a silken pad.


Monarchs are a much mimicked species with characteristic heavy, laboured wing beats. Names derived from monasteries are common. Distinctive markings are a feature and their larvae can usually be found on the milkweed family. This gives the larvae a rather unpleasant taste to predators. Their have been 3 species recorded in Namibia. They are:


The main feature of the subfamily Satyrinae are their predominately colours or shades of brown or orange and brown, even though a few members are grey. Their wings are short and broad usually with some eye-spots on the underside. An advantage when resting is the dry leaf appearance of the underside of their wings, giving them the confidence to fly away from danger at the last moment.

Breeding aspects include rounded/melon-shaped, grooved eggs, often laid in flight; smooth-skinned larvae; pupae suspended by the tail. There are 2 groups from this subfamily found in Namibia. They are:

  • Browns
  • Ringlets


Evening Browns are large, low-flying butterflies, that prefer to stay under the tree canopy. They opt to remain still and quiet, usually moving when disturbed by a slow, hopping action. Others do scamper away more quickly though.

Bush Browns on the other hand are medium-sized, dull brown butterflies that inhabit both the forest understorey or clumps of bush in savannah. There are 3 species of Browns found in Namibia. They are:


Ringlets are related to Grass Browns. They are dull-grey brown in colour with finely marked undersides. All species have an eye-spot on the forewing apex. There are 2 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:


The main identifying features of this subfamily are their long, narrow wings, spotted with black dots and coloured red or orange. Like Danainae, they are distasteful to predators and hard to kill and are known to come back to life after the usual squeeze of the thorax has been performed. A useful tool against enemies is the smelly liquid given off from the thorax. Other characteristics include a long and slender abdomen and a slow, but deceiving flight pattern. Breeding aspects include clusters of 100 or more eggs being laid only on the surfaces of leaves; spined surfaces of the larvae and dark brown and black rows of spots on the pupae.

Wanderer & Bitter Acraeas

The hatched larvae of Bitter Acraeas live as one in a group. This makes them more noticeable, however their emit a bitter aroma and together with their spiny appearance helps ward off predators.

Many Bitter Acraeas uses wild nettles and other stinging nettles for larval feeding. There are 22 species of this subfamily found in Namibia. They are:


The ranges of both size and colour of these families knows no bounds. The size ranges from small to medium up to some of the largest species found in Namibia. Nymphs and Commodores are impressively brightly coloured with a scope that includes shades of blue, green, violet to orange, red and yellow. They are also known as Brush-footed Butterflies, a reference to their forelegs. Features include rapid and powerful flight patterns and a liking to rotting fruit, a bait for many a trap. Breeding habits include round eggs, often ribbed in a small, flat area on the top, single spined larvae and angular shaped pupa, mostly green in colour. Many species of Charaxinae are enticed to sap oozing from branches or tree trunks, to carrion and to fermented fruit. There are 7 members of this subfamily found in Namibia. They are:


A number of diverse groups of species represent this subfamily. They are sturdy, striking and beautifully coloured. Males have characteristic reduced, hairy forelegs. There are 8 groups from this subfamily found in Namibia. They are:

  • Commodores
  • False Acraea
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Jokers
  • Mothers-of-pearl
  • Pansies
  • Sailers
  • Tree Nymphs

Guinea Fowl

There is only 1 species from this group found in Namibia.

Tree Nymphs

Tree Nymphs are so-called because of their habit of sitting on the bark of trees from 2m and above. There are 2 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:


Jokers are small to medium-sized butterflies with broadened veins and noticeable, bright orange ground colours with black markings. They are related to Tree Nymphs. Grassland and savannah are their preferred habitats, settling on low vegetation. There are 2 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:


Commodores have distinct summer and winter forms. Winter forms tend to be duller than summer forms. There are 2 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:

False Acraea

False Acraeas mimic poisonous butterflies. They look like Bitter Acraeas but are not. Settling with their wings held open is a distinctive feature. There is only 1 species from this group found in Namibia.


Sailers have distinctive white markings in particular the undersides resemble the uppersides. They drift through the air only occasionally flicking their wings. Another noticeable feature is that Sailers open and close their wings when settled, an indication of their alertness. Females are chased by males for mating. There is just the 1 species from this group found in Namibia.


Mothers-of-pearl are related to Pansies, Commodores and Admirals. There is only 1 species from this group found in Namibia.


Pansies are sun-loving butterflies that display a distinctive open-winged flight pattern. There is just the 1 species from this group found in Namibia.


The Family Lycaenidae boasts being the most diverse and complex family of butterfly. Some of the smallest species of butterfly hale from this family. They are predominately made up of Blues and Coppers.

Features include:

  • Tails on the hindwing of many species.
  • Prominent eye-spot markings.
  • Deception poses to ward off predators.
  • Quick and rapid flight patterns.
  • Localized distribution habits.
  • Clubbed antennae.
  • Tree top and small hill habitats.
  • Hair-tufts on males.
  • Grub-shaped larvae instead of the usual caterpillar shape.
  • An unusual 'ant association' including larva pupating inside the ants' nest.


There are 2 groups found in this subfamily.

  • Zulus
  • Buffs


There is just the 1 species from this group found in Namibia.


Buffs are small, slow-flying woodland butterflies who slowly open and close their wings when resting. Large numbers are common, often flying high. Grass stems are favoured roosting sites. There is just the 1 species of this group found in Namibia.


Only 1 group from this subfamily can be found in Namibia. It is:

  • Woolly Legs

These are minute, dark butterflies with furry legs, often observed resting in gardens or around woodland clearings. There is just the 1 species from this group found in Namibia.


There are 8 groups of butterflies in this large subfamily. They are:

  • Sapphires
  • Hairstreaks
  • Black-eyes
  • Playboys
  • Fig-tree Blues
  • Bars & High-fliers
  • Scarlets
  • Coppers


Sapphires are small in size but spectacular in shape and colour. Characteristics include long, graceful tails with a 'V' shaped underside line pointing to the tails. They are fast fliers, territorial with 'hilltop' aerial battles a speciality. There are 3 species of this group found in Namibia. They are:


Hairstreaks are so-called because of the thin, 'hairlike' lines on their undersides. They are similar, but duller than Sapphires, as well as being weaker fliers. There are 2 species of Hairstreak found in Namibia. They are:


The white-edged black spots at the anal end of the forewing outer margins on both wing surfaces are the most prominent identifiable feature of this species. They tend to stick close to their food plants and are not known to be high fliers.


Playboys are small butterflies with short, single tail on each hind wing. It features a prominent lobe at right-angles to the wing. This gives the impression of a 'false head'. Their swift, buzzing flight is a feature. There is just the 1 species of Playboy found in Namibia. It is:

Fig-tree Blues

The thick, long tails of a Fig-tree Blue is its most noticeable feature. Their uppersides resemble Sapphires in colour although their undersides are 'dead leaf-like' and dark. Their habitat is more tree and shrub, open country type locations on hilltops and in bush clearings. There is just the 1 species found in Namibia. It is:

Bars & High-fliers

This is a group of small to medium-sized butterflies with similar marking, behaviour and wing shapes. Their bright colouring is also a common sight as is 2 short, fine tails on each hindwing. There is 1 species of High-flier and 4 Bars found in Namibia. They are:


Scarlets are fast fliers, territorial and not afraid of a bit of a skirmish. Savannah is their favoured habitat. Males have characteristic red or orange upper sides with black wings tips and black forewing blotches. Females have black, spotted uppersides. There is just the 1 species of Scarlet found in Namibia. It is:


Coppers frequent riverbeds and hilltops. Although fairly powerful fliers they tend to fly close to the ground. All males are territorial but within their own small colonies. Prominent bushes or rocks are selected to keep an eye on space invaders. There are 7 species of Copper found in Namibia. They are:


There are 3 groups of butterflies found in this subfamily, including Blues, 1 of the largest groups of butterfly found in Namibia. They are:

  • Hairtails
  • Bronzes
  • Blues


The minute set of bristle-like tails on the trailing edge of the hind wings, puts this group of butterflies apart from any other. Swarms may frequent bushveld tree spp. Their quick and direct flight patterns is Hairtail trait. There is just the 1 species of Hairtail found in Namibia. It is:


Bronzes are related to Blues. Their characteristic brown-and-white marbled undersides are a common feature as is their short tails on each hindwing. There is just the 1 species of Bronze found in Namibia. It is:


Blues can be minute or medium-sized butterflies, mostly blue in colour although many are brown or grey. Ringed dark spots often cover their undersides with small, thin tails being another distinctive feature. The crescent-shaped orange mark is called a lunule. Their flight patterns are usually slow and weak, hence their habit of usually settling on low vegetation or on the ground. There are 15 species of Blue found in Namibia. They are:


Fast and furious, medium-sized fliers accurately describes this family. The ability to change direction suddenly in flight with an amazing turn of speed is another feature, although some members such as the African wood white are very slow and weak in flight. Whites is a bit of a misleading name as some species are pale blue or yellow in colour. Features include evenly rounded wings; well-developed forelegs; a tuft of white hair in the males of some species which gives off a scent to attract females. Breeding habits such as pale yellow or white elongated eggs, laid singly is common, although some species lay their eggs in clusters. This can lead to concentrations of 60 caterpillars or more. Larvae is often green with a variety of coloured stripes down the sides. There are 5 groups of butterfly from this family found in Namibia. They are:

  • Dotted Borders
  • Tips
  • Whites
  • Vagrants
  • Travellers

Dotted Borders

Dotted Borders are medium-sized, brightly coloured butterflies with black dots at the end of each wing vein, hence the common name. Their gentle wing beats produce a slow, floating flight across grassland and savannah. Females are usually larger than males with characteristic more yellow or orange colouration than the males. There is just the 1 species of Dotted Border found in Namibia. It is:

Tips and Whites

Most Tips are white butterflies with brightly coloured forewing tips, hence the common name. Some though have an iridescent purple or orange grounding. In most species the female is duller than the male but with more dark spots. For many a beginner they are amongst the first butterfly to be observed. Females lay single or batched eggs on food plants. Pupae are pointed nearer the tail, often with larger wing cases and are suspended by a silken girdle spun around the thorax. Green or pale brown colouring is most common. There are 2 species of Whites and 15 species of Tips found in Namibia. They are:




Vagrants fly in quick, direct flight paths. This large, pale butterfly are wary by nature making them difficult to approach. One way to net them is to wait until their heads are buried in nectar. Vagrants have seasonal forms. Dark markings adorn wet-season butterflies more than their dry-season counterparts. Red and yellow flowers appear to attract Vagrants more than any other colour. They are so-called because of their resemblance to the Common Vagrant but none of the 3 species of Vagrants found in Namibia are migratory. They are:


The Lemon Traveller is also known as the Lemon Tip. It is believed to be the fastest butterfly on the wing in Namibia. They fly near the ground in an erratic behaviour being able to change direction at the sign of any danger including a waiting net. Feeding time at a flower is the best time to catch them. There is just the 1 species found in Namibia.


As the members of this family are amongst some of the largest in the country, collectors and beginners tend to catch them before other smaller and less recognizable species. The common names of 'swallowtail' and 'swordtail' describe their tails on the hindwings of many species of Papilionidae. Features include:

  • A large, humped thorax.
  • Large and broad wings and shortish or club-tailed tails.

Breeding details include:

  • Large, roundish eggs, yellow in colour for 24hrs before becoming darker.
  • Angular pupae attached to the tail supported within a silken girdle.
  • The caterpillar should be handled with care otherwise the rear segments will rise up to let out a secretion that leaves a rather unpleasant smell on your skin for some time.

There is just the 1 group from this family found in Namibia. It is:


Most species of Swordtails have long, sword-like tails, hence the common name. There are 2 species of swordtail found in Namibia. They are:


Skippers are medium-sized butterflies with large, protruding, bulbous eyes and a head that is generally wider than the thorax. Antennae vary in length and vary in length which reach outwards. As they are flat clubbed, the shape gives off a hook-like appearance. The common name of this family is derived from their erratic flight behaviour, which is completely different from any other species. Some common features include:

  • Flying and dashing around stopping frequently but only for a few seconds rest.
  • Some skippers rest with their wings in a flat position, although a number of other species rest with their wings closed together vertically over the back, the more traditional position.
  • Colours vary from the more common greys and dull browns to other species that sport orange, black or white markings.
  • Their eggs are laid singly on various food plants.
  • The exact position of the caterpillar can be misleading as they 'fire' their dropping out of the anus, a very cunning plan indeed.

There are 7 groups of this family found in Namibia. They are:

  • Darts & Hoppers
  • Elves & Elvins
  • Night-fighters
  • Policemen
  • Rangers & Oranges
  • Skippers
  • Sandmen

Darts & Hopper

Darts and Hoppers are small, dark butterflies with characteristic triangular, dart with shape. Their quick, dipping, hopping flight pattern is also a feature as is their large, broad heads. Forest paths and clearings tend to be the centre of their territorial behaviour. Each species is difficult to tell apart from another. There are 4 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:

Elves & Elvins

This is a group of small-sized butterflies that are difficult to identify. They often inhabit savannah, grassland or dry forest habitats. Their flight patterns tend to be low, flying in and out of the undergrowth before settling with their wings open. There are 3 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:


Night-fighter are large, dark butterflies whose appearance is the most 'moth-like' of any butterfly found in Namibia. They fly at dusk or sometimes at night, hence the common name. In the daytime they are usually resting, their colouration providing more than adequate camouflage. There is only 1 species of Night-fighter found in Namibia.

Palm-tree night-fighter (Zophopetes dysmephila)


Policemen are dark, hairy butterflies who spend a fair amount of time on flowers. They are also night-fighters but are diurnal, an important distinguishing feature in identification. Settling with their wings part-open is a feature. Females are usually slightly larger than males with bigger abdomens. Single eggs are laid on a shoot of a food plant, white to red, with coloured hoops ranging from black, yellow or cream. The larvae live in shelters made from leaves stitched together with silk. There are 3 species of Policemen found in Namibia. They are:


Typical Ranger behaviour includes sitting with forewings half-closed. Their undersides are usually more brightly coloured than Darts and Hoppers, although this group have smaller heads compared to the size of the thorax. They are fast-flying creatures, keeping low and settle on vegetation or grass as opposed to tree-tops. Pupae are formed in leaf shelters, darkly coloured with rounded heads and pointed tails. Males are territorial, defending small areas with some vigour with a low 'skipping' flight around their base. Females tend to be larger than males. There are 4 members of this group found in Namibia. They are:


Swifts are small to medium-sized butterflies with distinctive pointed forewings and white spots on the forewing. Dark-brown to grey-black in ground colouration, their resting position of forewings half-closed and hind wings flat is the same as that of Rangers. Species are difficult to tell apart. There are 2 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:


The pointed forewing, broad bodies and bright colours are a good indication that 1 species or another of Skipper is around. They favour hilltops to aid in their territorial behaviour, where they can secure a vantage point to repel intruders. Females tend to stay close to flowers or but also have a noticeable turn of speed on the wing. Wings are held flat open or at 45° on a prominent perch with the same site re-used repeatedly. Single eggs are laid on leaves of food plants. There are 8 species of Skipper found in Namibia. They are:


Sandmen are small butterflies related to Skippers. Their underside markings are their most helpful distinguishing feature. As they fly low with rapid wing beats they can often be mistaken for flies. There are 3 species from this group found in Namibia. They are:

Wildlife Namibia

Auas Safari Lodge

A privately owned game farm, with a good variety of wildlife just a short distance south of Windhoek.

Daan Viljoen Game Park

Newly built lodge in a small well stocked game reserve west of Windhoek

Dusternbrook Guest Farm

This lodge is very popular amongst those seeking leopard and cheetah viewing close to Windhoek. Regular feedings guarantee great sightings and photographic opportunities

Elisenheim Guest Farm

A relaxing lodge in the Eros Mountains (named after a local fruit and not the goddess of love) around 30km north of the city

Etango Ranch Guest Farm

Opposite the Windhoek International Airport, close enough to be extremely convenient but far enough away that planes are not a distraction. Great for those arriving late or leaving early, as cuts out the 45km drive from Windhoek/

Gocheganas Nature Reserve

One of Namibia's most popular spas with the added bonus of top game viewing.

Hohewarte Guest Farm

Between Windhoek and the International Airport lies this interesting cattle & game farm

Immanuel Wilderness Lodge

family friendly, mid range lodge in rural location

Naankuse Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary

a wildlife sanctuary offering quality accommodation in a tranquil environment

Okapuka Lodge

Large lodge on a large well stocked game farm


On a large private game farm close to the Windhoek International Airport, ideal for those not wanting to travel into Windhoek before or after their arrival in Namibia

Onjala Lodge

Offering horse riding, spa treatments and two swimming pools, this is a good family lodge

River Crossing Lodge

a few kilometers east of Windhoek this lodge offers unsurpassed views of the city from a setting in the Auas Mountains

Windhoek Game Camp

20km north of the city, this tented lodge offers a quality self catering experience surrounded by the veld and wildlife

Self Catering Accommodation in Namibia