In a world obsessed with size, beauty still lies in the smaller details. The smallest butterflies may emphasise this point. The smallest butterflies are known as ‘blues', because of many butterflies having a blue upperwing ground colour.
Their undersides vary from drab grey to creamy-white, to blend in with the background and render them invisible. The wingspan of a butterfly is measured from where the wing is attached to the body, to the tip or apex of the wing.
These feather-weights that are selected weigh in with a wingspan at between 10 and 20mm. The male of the smallest butterfly has a 10mm wingspan and the female has a wingspan of 12mm. It is locally common, but prefers savanna or grassveld areas and is named the dwarf blue (Oraidium barberae). It is the smallest butterfly in Africa!
Another petite butterfly that is quite a find in lepidopterists' circles is the rayed blue (Actizera lucida). The male has a wingspan of 15mm. It gets its English name from a white ray on the hindwing. The upperwings have a violescent blue in the male – depending how the light reflects from the wings.
The female has a dull brown sheen to her upperside. A more common tiny butterfly is the grass jewel blue (Chilades trochylus), with the male's wingspan at 15mm. Despite its minute size and dull brown ground colour, it is quite a visually striking discovery due to the bright orange spots on the hindwing. The Gaika blue (Zizula hylax) is a scarcer, but somewhat bigger butterfly.
The male has a wingspan of 17mm and has a dull brown upperside, while the female is powder blue. The underside has a porcelain white tinge to it, with delicately fine paint-brush markings to match.
You may need to get into close proximity of these baby bejewelled beauties, but it is definitely worth your while. Sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses – especially if there is a butterfly on them!
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