Category Archives: Butterflies

Monday morning


Caterpillars in close-up

Indicator Plots

Among the additions to GVI’s surveys are our Indicator plot studies. Indicator plots enable an intensive study to be made of a 50m x 50m sample of the forest habitat.   Several surveys will be carried out within the plot to gauge levels of disturbance, biodiversity, and vegetation makeup. So far, two such surveys have been carried out: firstly, two butterfly traps were installed, and secondly, an active search was done, in which surveyors were encouraged to be as proactive as possible in finding species (in contrast to a passive search where animals are looked for without disturbing anything).

The net traps, suspended from the branches of trees and baited with fermented bananas, had attracted one butterfly in each, both large and very attractive.  Before taking them out it was important to check that nothing likely to bite or sting had also entered the trap.  It is daunting at first to grab hold of a butterfly but these animals are large and robust and once you have your hand around them it is relatively easy to manoeuvre them so that you are lightly grasping the thorax with the other hand, enabling a photograph to be taken of both upper and under sides to aid identification.  Consulting the butterfly guide later, one species appeared to be a striking female mocker (Papilio dardanus polytrophus), and an equally striking Charaxes brutus.


Looking around at the start of the 15 minute active search, it appeared that the plot was devoid of life,  but once the leaf litter was disturbed, stones and logs rolled over and stems and leaves examined, animals became evident – between three of us we found a sharp-nosed ridged frog, a tiny toad and even one foot-long snake.

Wildlife Club Head Into The Forest

Yesterday was Friday.  And that meant one thing – environmental education!  For the last few months or so, we’ve been swapping our boots and clipboards for chalk boards, songs and games and heading into the Base Academy (a small primary school in the village) to teach the children about environmental issues and some basic science.

We feel it is really important to give the children this sort of knowledge and awareness about the environment around them because firstly, what they learn in school about such issues is minimal and basic, and it doesn’t cover the things that affect their everyday lives.

This is why we have been focusing our lessons on areas that the children can relate to such as coastal forests, the importance of forests and the animals that live there, effects of deforestation, pollution etc.  A couple of weeks ago, we decided to re-brand our weekly lesson, and form a wildlife club for the kids.  This means they are now part of the Shimoni Base Academy Wildlife Club!  We felt this would encourage a sense of ownership and pride in the children who come, and would really make them feel a part of something. 


 The children coming back from the forest

We think it has worked really well, as we now have a regular group of about 30 children that are there every Friday, who all wear their Wildlife Club badges with pride, and sing the Club song through the village!  And since forming the Club, we have been putting an emphasis on actually taking the children into the forest every week.  The idea behind this is to get them out there, seeing the plants and animals for themselves, and getting them out of the classroom and excited about nature, the forest and the wildlife. 

So far its been a huge success; the kids absolutely love being taken out into the forest, and they have really enjoyed the topics we’ve covered so far.  We’ve been going over basic plant biology (as this was in their syllabus and their exams were coming up so we thought that would help), where we actually showed them the different plant species and the different parts.  Then we gave a lesson on butterflies, followed by sweep netting in the forest – they absolutely loved that (and were rather good at it…I’m considering using them for our surveys!), where we also showed them how to get the butterflies out of the nets without hurting them. 

And then yesterday we tried to touch on the subject of colobus behaviour.  We managed to get across the basic idea of why we study their behaviour, how colobus behaviour is adversely affected by things such as disturbance, and then what possible impacts this could have.  It went surprisingly well, and they grasped the concept really well.  It was a very simplified version of course, with the basic premise being if the colobus are undisturbed they will spend more time feeding, resting, sleeping and socialising, whereas if the forest around them is being disturbed, they may spend more time alert or travelling.

They are a great bunch of kids to work with, all so eager to learn and take part.  Hopefully we will be helping these children to grow up into environmentally aware adults, who understand about their surroundings, and take pride in the beautiful areas they live in.  

The Beauty Of Butterflies

When I first came out here to GVI Kenya in July 2008, I never thought I would become an avid fan of butterflies.  To be honest, I would have laughed at the thought (as would many of my friends back home in England!), but I now proud to say otherwise.

As part of our biodiversity research in Shimoni east forest, we monitor butterfly diversity and abundance.  We are trying to put together a comprehensive species list, as well as record any changes in species presence, distribution, or changes in abundance.  We do this for several reasons. 


Charaxes brutus.  Here you can see its proboscis very well (the curly red thing) which is used for feeding.

Firstly, butterflies are a very well studied taxon.  They are also easily identifiable (they are 90% identifiable by external characteristics), and we can do it ourselves relatively accurately using a book (Larsen 2006).  They are also excellent ecological indicators due to their very specific plant and habitat associations.  So by monitoring them, we can indirectly monitor the health of the forest. 


 Charaxes brutus

And finally, they have a trait that plays straight into our hands.  They can only take off upwards.  This means they are very easy to trap!  We use things called canopy traps, which comprise of a board with a pot of bait in the middle.  A couple of inches above the board is a cylindrical tube of mosquito netting.  So the butterflies fly onto the board to feed on the bait, then when they attempt to fly away, they fly straight into the net!


The face of Charaxes brutus

Once caught, we remove them from the net, and take photographs of the upperside and the underside for later identification.  Getting them out of the trap is fairly easy.  You grab them by the sides of the thorax, which is the middle section that houses all of the muscles for the legs and wings.  You can then use your other hand to slide your finger between the wings and get a grip of the thorax from the top and bottom.  The butterflies we catch in the traps tend to be the larger species, and they are very strong!  It still surprises me how solid their thorax is, and the strength of their wings.  By using this method, we can be sure not to touch their wings or harm the butterfly.  Once photographed, we let them fly on their way.  An example of the grip we get is shown below.


Papilio demodocus demodocus

I decided to write this blog because Andy (a new edition to GVI) has a camera with an amazing macro setting, allowing us to get some really cool photos of the butterflies.  Enjoy the close ups!  

More Spotted Ground Thrush & New Born Colobus Found on Forest Floor

Yesterday we sent three teams in to the forest in an attempt to catch up on delays caused by having to re-cut transect 6, and a shorter week as some our research team prepare to take a long weekend break. 

Tess took ‘team 1’ up to transect 6 to finish off maintenance… re-clearing the paths we use to survey the forest following a combination of natural tree falls and sadly even more ‘unnatural’ tree falls as illegal timber extraction and charcoal burning continue. It is the hottest and hardest work so it was a mixture of relief and pride to hear they finished it. The excitement was reserved something else however – the team recorded another spotted ground thrush, our 2nd in as many weeks of this critically endangered bird species. Critically endangered due to habitat loss, something only too evident in the forest we survey; the presence of such a conservation important species however could provide an invaluable stimulus to raising awareness of the plight of Shimoni’s forests. Alongside the Angolan black and white colobus it represents a ‘flagship’ species – a focus for conservation that would benefit the wider habitat and species assemblage. 

Matt and I joined forces with our two teams to check the small mammal traps… empty… but on the way to transect 4, following our group from the back I noticed something on the ground, inconspicuous enough for the others to have walked by. A new born colobus monkey, sadly lying dead on the ground. A genuine mix of emotions; upsetting for everyone to see such a beautiful, vulnerable creature that didn’t quite make it – a species that we are committed to conserving, and acutely aware that every individual counts when habitat destruction is sending the species in to increasingly rapid decline in Kenya. But the scientist in me was also excited; when you study animals so intently, each day raises new questions, sometimes more than it brings answers. An opportunity to examine a new born so closely is a privilege. Pure white, thin silky fur, the face still pink, the dried skin of the umbilical cord still present. The hands clenched with the characteristic colobus trait of it’s reduced, almost non-existent thumb. Perfectly formed, but lifeless.


The infant had died probably at the end of the day before. A small gap in the tree canopy directly above suggested it may simply have fallen as its mother leaped between trees but this is obviously conjecture. It was curled in the foetal position so hadn’t died immediately, but likely had died as a result of a fall. We buried it, marked with stones… partly an emotive, collective mark of respect but the scientist still lurks – an complete, clean skeleton of an infant by the end of the rainy season will be of major interest. 

On transect 4 we conducted a bird survey – many were heard and crowned and trumpeter hornbills, green wood hoopoe, plain-backed sunbird and a pair of woodpeckers. Another exciting ‘second’ of this expedition was spotted in the leaf-litter by Asha; a bearded pygmy chameleon.  


I took my team on to transect 5, to survey canopy height and coverage; straightforward, slow-paced work, but the panga needed swinging to clear the path of branches and vines, and the heat and humidity were taking their toll on all of us. Back at section 0, we mustered our remaining collective energies for butterfly sweep netting. There wasn’t quite enough energy left in reserve to chase down the few high and fast flying butterflies flitting through the sunny spots until Tom stepped up to the challenge at the end – a beautiful swordtail butterfly. 

And those were the highs and lows, but as with every day in Shimoni’s coastal forest the small, these daily rewards keep us coming back. Until next time… Corti

Friends of Shimoni Forest back to work in the Kenyan Coastal Forest!!!

 Greetings from Kenya!My name is Drew; I’m an American from California currently living in Shimoni, a small village on the south coast of Kenya. Shimoni is home to a very important coastal forest and is believed to house the second largest population of Angolan Black and White Colobus monkey in Kenya. Kenyan coastal forests have a number of endemic species, including 10 birds, 34 reptiles, 75 butterflies. We also have the rare zanj elephant shrew in Shimoni an animal in which very little data has been collected.

 I work with a local community group called “Friends of Shimoni Forest” dedicated to conserving the forest and educating the community on its importance. Our group was created near the end of 2007 when local community members began to realize that the destruction of the forest was no longer sustainable. The forest had always been used for its natural resources, but in recent years the amount of charcoal and timber being removed has increased nearly 300%, much of which was not being consumed by local people. This inspired the community to take action in conservation to insure that the forest would be available for generations to come.

 2009 marks a new beginning and our group has big plans for the year to come. In January a new Area Sub Chief, Adini Miongo Mgenti, was designated to Shimoni sub location. He has shown himself to be dedicated to conservation and is committed to working with us towards our goals. His support will be critical and we are very fortunate to have him with us. With the new school year starting, we will move forward with our community education. Lesson plans are being created and soon we will be in classrooms working with the youth and creating our Friends of Shimoni Forest youth group, very exciting.  Alternative livelihoods for community members is always a priority so things like bee-keeping and creating a forest walk for tourist are also in the works. It’s amazing to see our members’ dedication and determination to protecting this beautiful environment. We invite you to come along for the ride this year and share in this incredible experience. 
Talk to you soon,   


Catching Butterflies with Shimoni School Children

It took a few weeks to get our Saturday morning forest education off the ground, but we know now not to try starting new programmes in the school holidays. However many of the children from last Saturday where back again yesterday for part 2 of our children’s environmental awareness on behalf of our local partner Friends of Shimoni Forest.


To be honest we were expecting a different set of children and therefore to run the same lesson. But some quick thinking by myself and Tess and we picked up form where we left off last week. Our topic was ‘Biodiversity’, something the coastal forests of East Africa are globally recognised for. After a presentation of how different animals such as the Colobus and the Syke’s monkeys use forest resources differently and so share the habitat, we took a walk to the forest edge and played a game.


The three teams of children, the Baboons, Spiders and Swifts had half an hour with our butterfly sweep nets, to catch as many butterflies as they could… and as many different species. We have been doing this daily as part of our research programme, so were somewhat put to shame when the children came back with species we hadn’t yet recorded! But after a tie-breaker, the Swifts won with 11 butterflies from 9 different species.


Earlier this week I was emailed a couple of letters from the children of the Olive Rehabilitation Centre in Mombasa – an inspirational project where a small team of dedicated volunteer with very little resources achieve very big results with underprivileged children of the slums, giving them a genuine shot at a decent education… and the only reliable meal of their day: