Article by Mike Moore
Mount Lofty Ranges and Adelaide Plains
A narrow but long range of low hills that morphs into the Flinders Ranges above Port Augusta. The MLR is one of the wetter areas of South Australia and was the most wooded part of the state upon settlement. Unfortunately, because it is also the most settled part of the State the natural habitat has become severely fractionated and the wildlife has suffered as a result.
The isolation of these ranges from the south and east resulted in it becoming a refuge for some species as Australia has dried over the last millennia. Two such butterflies are Geitoneura acantha (Ringed Xenica) and Trapezites phigalia (Heath Ochre skipper).
Generally, it has a relatively large butterfly fauna and because of its relatively wet habitat swampy areas and creek lines are the home for a number of Gahnia living Hersperilla skippers. There are a number of butterfly species that have been lost from this region since European settlement.
Riverland and Murray Mallee
This area is flat and dry, with a thin covering of sandy soil over limestone rock. The Mallee areas of the State are areas that have a surprisingly large and interesting butterfly fauna, with the beautiful Lycaenid genus Ogyris is well represented in this area with 5 species being found in this region. Of particular interest is the rare, recently recognised, Ogyris subterrestris (Arid Bronze Azure), with its unknown ant association. All four of SA’s Candalides species are found in the mallee with the rare (for this State) Candalides cyprotus (Copper Pencil-blue), using the striking Grevillea hueglii as one of its caterpillar food plants. Because the southern Murray mallee supports growth of the Gahnia species deusta and lanigera the Black and White skipper (Antipodia atralba) is also present, but note that this species is not found along the upper arm of the Murray River.
Where substantial areas of perennial spear grass grow the beautiful Herimosa albovenata (White -veined skipper) can be found in mid-September.
The Murray River and its citrus settlements has been a conduit into the State for a small suite of eastern butterfly species that have now settled here in South Australia.
Habitat wise Eyre Peninsula is very interesting, very much reflecting in the west, the eastern part of the State, in having a wetter wooded south, a wetter sandier middle (similar to the upper south east) and a drier typical mallee region in the north, which then runs into much older granitic rock-forms further north. Unfortunately some areas of EP have been denuded of native vegetation reducing significantly the area that native wildlife can survive in.
Butterfly wise the central areas and the north have a lot of interest. In the drier northern mallee whilst the number of Ogyris species is much reduced, the unique and isolated subspecies of Ogyris barnardi (Bright Purple Azure) lives in the north on Amyema quandang, a parasite of the Western Myall acacia. Also, in the north are the very interesting skipper species, Croitana arenaria (Inland Sand Skipper), unique to this part of SA and living on the tall perennial Austrostipa elegans, and Trapezites sciron (Sciron Skipper) living on Lomandra collina.
In the central region the ultra-rare Ogyris halmaturia (Large Bronze Azure) has been found, whilst in the south the related, but less rare, Ogyris otanes (Small Bronze Azure) is found.
Eyre Peninsula has on it many native species that are closely related to those in Western Australia as these have become isolated on the peninsula as Australia has drifted north and dried out, isolating the west from the east!
Upper South East
This is a very interesting part of SA, having very sandy, low nutrient soil. The two butterflies of note here are the abovementioned Ogyris halmaturia (Large Bronze Azure) and Acrodipsas brisbanensis (Bronze Ant blue). The latter species belongs to a group of butterflies that have taken the butterfly-ant association to the extreme and now are predators of certain ant species, living in their nests and eating their larvae. The previously mentioned White-veined skipper (Herimosa albovenata) can also be found in this region, as can most of the other Murray Mallee species.
Lower South East
This area contains a large variety of unique butterflies that are endangered in this State. Previously a wet, swampy landform, the draining of the 1950s and the subsequent clearing has irrevocably changed this area. Many native species have been extinguished or placed on the edge of oblivion. The areas of remaining forest are minute and often hidden within acres of introduced pine plantation.
Butterflies of note include, Ogyris abrota (Dark Purple Azure), Tisiphone abeona (Swordgrass brown), Heteronympha cordace (Bright-eyed Brown), Oreixenica kershawi (Striped Xenica), Oreixenica lathionella (Silver Xenica) and the skippers Trapezites symmomus (Splendid Ochre), Trapezites eliena (Orange Ochre), Pasma tasmanicus (Two-spotted Grass Skipper), and Signeta flammeata (Bright-shield Skipper). Add to this the eastern (dark) form of Candalides hyacinthinus and the less endangered and more widespread Heteronympha penelope (Shouldered Brown) and you can see this is an impressive list of butterflies that can be found nowhere else in SA. Whilst all of them are found widely in the east of Australia it would be a tragedy to lose them from the SA list, for want of effort.
This is an example of poor planning in the first place, and development, over retention of our natural heritage.
Innes National Park at the bottom of the Peninsula is an island of wilderness in an ocean of baron-ness. Unfortunately, this unique landform was cleared early in the State’s European development because of its good soil and regular rainfall. What used to exist there, was not recorded and has been lost forever. The park at the south has been a refuge for what remains and is important for the butterfly species Ogyris otanes (Small Bronze Azure) and Hypochrysops ignita (Fiery Jewel). Wardang Island is said to hold a subspecies of the widespread Geitoneura klugii (Klug’s Xenica) but access to the island is difficult.
This is the one area of the State where significant areas of undisturbed native vegetation are left. This alone makes this important for preservation. Its isolation at various times in its history has led to a unique evolution of its plant and animal species. For many widespread species the Kangaroo Island populations are just a little, but distinctly different. That has been shown in some butterfly species with Hesperilla chrysotricha (Golden-haired Sedge Skipper) and Hesperilla donnysa (Varied Sedge Skipper) being just a little different from their mainland relatives. The very rare species Ogyris halmaturia (Large Bronze Azure) and Ogyris otanes (Small Bronze Azure) are also both present on the island. Unique things have been lost from the Island in the past and it is important to ensure that this does not happen again in the future.
In general Kangaroo Island has a relatively large butterfly fauna, similar to the Mount Lofty Ranges.
The Far North
The dry desert inland! Most people do not understand how fragile these environments are, nor how hard it is to repair them. The Far North has a small number of butterfly species, but like the wet South East some of these species are unique. Of particular interest are the species Croitana arenaria (Inland Sand Skipper; a different subspecies from Eyre Peninsula!), Famegana alsulus (Black-spotted Grass-blue), and Eurema hecabe (The Large Grass Yellow). In many regions of the State little historical collecting has given us a poor understanding of species present, their distribution or their abundance and this is one such region.
This is another area of the State where unique and fragile environments are continuing to be destroyed through lack of action. In this case habitat destruction is being wrought by domesticated animals (cows and sheep), , (probably for very small economic gain particularly when compared to the damage done) and feral animals (goats, donkeys, camels and rabbits), which should be eradicated, from the Australian scene.
Mid North and Flinders Ranges
Much of this area is intensively farmed or grazed and in consequence there are only small pockets of natural habitat remaining. The landforms are various, including low rocky hills and wide sandy plains. Removal of the natural shrubland has at least resulted in semi natural grassland and in consequence grassland butterflies and skippers can be found. The rare skippers Herimosa albovenata (White-veined skipper) and Trapezites luteus (Rare White-spotted Skipper) can be found living on Austrostipa spp. and Lomandra multiflora respectively. In the remaining scrubland areas that have Grevillea hueglii growing have a chance of hosting Candalides cyprotus (Copper Pencil-blue).
A common plant in this area is Acacia victoriae and depending on the ant species laying claim to the plant, either Jalmenus icilius (Amethyst Hairstreak) or Jalmenus lithacroa (Waterhouse’s Hairstreak; and SA’s only indigenous butterfly) can be found.