A Day in the Life of a Brackenhurst Butterfly

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6th March 2020 - Written by Nathan Mixon

Hi there! Welcome to my home here at Brackenhurst! Let me introduce myself. My name is Amauris albimaculata – it’s a Latin name. If that name is too tricky, you can just call me Layman. That’s because I’m a Layman butterfly, one of the many, many kinds of butterflies who live here at Bracken! Maybe I’m the first butterfly you’ve ever met, or maybe you’ve spent time with some of my relatives and friends. Either way, I’m very excited to tell you a little bit about myself and what a day in my life looks like!

What’s in a Name?

Before we get started, it will probably help to review how I got my name (the long, funny-sounding one) and what it means. Like I said before, Amauris albimaculata is my species’ Latin name. The way scientists like to give us butterflies names is called “taxonomy.” That’s actually how all of the animals and plants in the world get their Latin names. Taxonomy organizes plants and animals by separating them into more and more specific groups according to what they look like and how they behave. In order from biggest to smallest, those groups are called kingdoms, phylums, classes, orders, families, genuses, and finally, species. We don’t need to worry about the bigger groups, but we can start with my family. My family of butterflies is the biggest of all butterfly families and our name is Nymphalidae. We live all over the world! Now you already know my genus and species – Amauris albimaculata. Don’t worry – you don’t need to remember those names. I just think it is helpful for you to know where my funny name comes from. But we’ll stick to my common name, Layman. 

We Laymans live all over southern Africa, from South Africa all the way up to Ethiopia. That’s because we like the tropical climate and the sunshine that comes with it. I like to stay in sort of open spaces, like a savannah or the edge of a forest, like the ones we have here at Brackenhurst. In the forests around here, I have a lot of friends and plenty of food, but life as a butterfly isn’t quite as easy and carefree as you may think it is.

Gotta Have My Sunshine

Do you ever have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Well, I do too. For me to get up and start my day I need to be warm. But the nights here at Brackenhurst can get pretty cold, so I have to wait for the sun to rise before I can wake up properly. When the sun finally does rise and shine on the leaf that I’ve spent my night on I spread out my wings, which act kind of like little, personal solar panels, and soak in the heat I need to get moving. Sometimes the sky is overcast and that means that I will wait until the sun shines through the clouds before I fly off. On days that aren’t hot, which are common around here, I have to take regular breaks to get more sun, much like your car needs to be refueled every once in a while. The colder the weather, the more time I spend searching for that necessary solar energy. 

All in a Day’s Work

Compared to many of my butterfly friends around Brackenhurst, I tend to be a little more laid-back. When you see me around, I probably won’t be fluttering and zig-zagging about like my bubbly friend the Brown-veined White (her Latin name is Belenois aurota). She’s so fun and full of energy! (She’s the white and brown butterflies you see all over Brackenhurst.) I prefer to glide, almost float, from flower to flower, leaf to leaf. I spend my days gliding about looking for tasty nectar. I use my long, tubular mouthpart, called a proboscis, to suck nectar from the base of a flower. Then I carry the pollen from that flower to the next. I play an important role in pollinating flowers around the hotel’s campus and in the forests – I can pollinate hundreds of flowers in a single day all by myself! 

May I Have this Dance?

Other than pollinating flowers, my most important job is finding a mate. And trust me, that is not easy. I have to use a lot of energy trying to impress potential mates. You might see myself or some of my friends, such as the Soldier Commodore (Junonia terea), flying around energetically with another one of our kind. It probably looks like we’re playing together, but we actually are performing a little sort of waltz to impress our potential mates. 

You may think that friends of mine who have brighter, flashier colors would have a better shot at getting a mate but that’s not really true. My most alluring attribute is not the color of my wings, but rather my scent. Some call it my “love-dust,” which most male butterflies have. It is a dusting that contains a pheromone, a chemical that many animals, including humans, produce that affects the behavior of another animal of the same species. It’s basically my version of cologne or perfume. So I try to sprinkle a little bit of my “love-dust” onto a female Layman – hopefully she likes it!

Watch Out for Birds!

All the energy I spend finding food and looking for a mate sure does wear me out. But I can’t rest! I’ve got to always keep an eye open for insect-eating birds who might find me to be a tasty snack. We have got lots of birds here at Brackenhurst – around 200 different species! And those birds have got to eat. Remember my friend the Brown-veined White? She escapes birds with her jolting flight, jerking here and there so the bird can’t catch her. But I can’t fly as fast as her, so how do I escape the birds? Well, it’s simple – I taste really gross. When I was a caterpillar, I ate poisonous plants and that gives me a bad taste now. A bird may eat one Layman, but they won’t do it again. The patterns on my wings, the dots that look kind of like eyes, remind the bird how bad a Layman tastes. “No thank you,” he says.

A Day’s End

Well, at the end of a long day sucking up nectar, dancing for females, and keeping away from hungry birds, I am exhausted. So I think I’ll go find a nice leaf to settle on and get a good night’s rest, before another busy day tomorrow. Maybe you’ll see me floating through the air the next time you come up to Brackenhurst!

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