Want to reach for an aspirin? Or perhaps a remedy for a stomach complaint? Ever wondered if butterflies have the same requirements? The common leopard (and this is a butterfly, not the local Kruger Park variety) has the scientific name of Phalanta phalantha aethiopica. It also seems to have a need for an aspirin every now and again. But not in the same form as we humans do. The female seeks the leaves of the wild willow (Salix mucronata) to lay its eggs on. This tree contains salicylic acid, and the acetylated form of that, is aspirin. Perhaps the bitter taste of the tree attracts this butterfly. This tree occurs throughout the entire Kruger National Park (KNP).
The coral trees or Erythrina species have vibrant red flowers and seeds – a sure-fire sign of danger! These plants contain alkaloids that are very toxic to humans, hence the medication is used externally for sores, abscesses or ear-ache. These trees are indigenous and serve as beautiful decorative trees, for the incarnadine flowers or the seeds. The giant charaxes (Charaxes castor flavifasciatus) uses Erythrina trees as a larval foodplant. This butterfly is also attracted to another tree with red flowers, which also has medicinal properties, namely the weeping boerbean. This tree gets its name from the fact that the flowers drip with nectar during late spring and the seeds are huge and enveloped in a robust brown pod, yet much larger than a normal green bean.
The weeping boerbean tree (Schotia brachypetala) is an attractive indigenous tree that is also an aesthetically pleasing garden plant. This tree is used for heartburn and diarrhoea with the main ingredient being decocted from the bark. Except for the giant charaxes, this tree also serves two other large butterflies as a larval hostplant – the large blue charaxes (Charaxes bohemani) and the foxy charaxes (Charaxes jasius saturnus).
Although the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) is an exotic and not indigenous to South Africa, it is used by three different butterflies as a larval foodplant. It is also well-known (or abhorred) for its purgative function and disagreeable taste. The seeds contain one of the most toxic substances known – ricin. It is a lectin, which is a kind of protein, that binds to the cell membrane.
Butterflies that utilize it as a larval foodplant are the golden piper (Eurytela dryope angulata), the pied piper (Eurytela hiarbas angustata) and the spotted sailor (Neptis saclava marpessa).The butterflies may use the plants for completely different reasons than what we as humans do, but we still have the plant in common. Even so, one is yet to hear a butterfly complaining of stomach ailments or a headache. Go take an aspirin.