Midas of the Mountains

The Nuweveld Mountains home of a rare butterfly.

There is a rare golden creature that flutters about only in the Nuweveld Mountains above Beaufort West in the Great Karoo.   This seldom seen butterfly is the Poecilmitis midas, a handsome creature with brilliant metallic golden-orange coloured wings.   It was seen during summer flying flies under high precipices at altitudes of over 1 500 m above sea level and once reported it drew lepidopterists to the area.  The first specimen was caught in October, 1954, by D Dickson and because of its rich colour this beautiful rarity was named after the mythical King Midas who turned everything he touched to gold.  The butterfly was seen again in 1967 and after that it seems to have disappeared.  In the 1970s after a severe drought lepidopterists scoured the mountains in search of the rare butterfly without any luck.  Now and then farmers spied some, but there are no official reports of the Midas of the Mountains ever having been seen again.   There is a specimen in the British museum, a few specimens are in private collections.  Well-known lepidopterist and author of Butterflies of Africa, K M Pennington, also has a specimen.  Continuous droughts in the Karoo have been blamed for the non-appearance of this beautiful creature.

It is not the only “midas” of its kind to be found in the Karoo. The Midas Opal Chrysoritis midas, a member of the Lycaenidae family is found in various spots along the Roggeveld escarpment to Nuweveld Mountains from September to November, each year.    This creature is more common. Males have a wingspan of 24-28 mm and females are slightly bigger with a wingspan of 25-30 mm. Only one generation occurs each year.   The larvae feed on Disopyros austro-africana a beautiful indigenous shrub that bears little cream, pink and even red lantern-like flowers, commonly known as “tolbos”.  It is a water-wise plant that can tolerate frosts.  Its name comes from the Greek – “dios” meaning “divine” and “pyro” meaning whet or grain.  It was given this name because its various parts provide food for so many animals.

The butterfly larvae are attended to by Crematogaster liengmei ants.

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