Brown Veined White

The Brown Veined WhiteBelenois aurota male is very common to South Africa and tends to live on hillsides, in parks, gardens, edges of forests and pretty much everywhere else.

Belenois aurota - Brown-veined white -- Witgatwitjie - PIERIDAEAnd another from my good friend Steve Woodhall

Brown Veined White - Belenois aurota male


  1. Brian

    Hi I was told today that all those lovely little white butterflies that were flying around in their millions here in Gauyeng, are on their way to Mozambique. laying eggs all along the way and fly out to sea where they die.
    It sounds like a very tall tale to me. can you shed any light on what they are and their habits.
    many thanks brian

    1. Sean Allen (Post author)

      Hi Brian,
      The person that told you this, is basically correct. I spoke to a Lepidopterist friend of mine, Mr Steve Woodhall, who mentioned a few facts on these butterflies:

      “These Butterflies have a burst migration, a dispersal mechanism that relieves overcrowding in one area and spreads the progeny all over the place.
      It happens not only here but in Kenya and also in Asia where the same species occurs.
      Ours originate in the Kalahari and move east from there. When they start they are sexually immature, and they develop as they travel. They are known to get as far as Madagascar, and maybe even further. There is another population centre in the KZN thornveld, and occasionally a burst comes from there and they go west.”

      On further questioning about the dying in the sea:

      “I have read reports of dead ones seen floating in the Indian Ocean… have not seen this myself but I have seen them flying out to sea from the coast up near False Bay.

      They just keep going till they find a mate and lay eggs, or just run out of fuel.

      Remember these are insects whose behaviour is driven by instinct and there is no ‘elephants’ graveyard’ going on. Some butterflies have been found to have magnetic crystals inside their nervous system (as do homing pigeons) but those were Nymphalids not Pierids like these”

  2. Willem

    Butterfly migration spectacle in city
    Saturday, February 11, 2012 – 00:00 — BY DINO MARTENS

    The Brown-Veined White butterfly, one of the one’s currently moving through Nairobi. Photo/ Dino martins
    THE sky over Nairobi for the past week has been dotted with hundreds of tiny bright white forms drifting purposefully across the landscape. These are not takataka drifting around but thousands of butterflies migrating through Nairobi and its environs. Most of the butterflies are the Caper Whites and belong to the genus Belenois. They are common in open woodland and grassland areas across East Africa. They will stop to sip nectar from flowers or gather at damp spots on the side of the roads for salts. Caper White caterpillars feed on bushes called Maerua, Capparis and other members of the plant family Capparaceae
    Of the Caper Whites, the most common species is the Brown-Veined White, Belenois aurota, where the veins on the underside of the white wings are outlined in brown-black. This bulk of butterflies moving through Nairobi at present are these Brown-Veined Whites. Sometimes they are mistakenly called ‘Cabbage Whites’ which are a European species.
    It has been suggested that they may migrate driven by the need to disperse, but it is more likely that when the population peaks caterpillar food-plants are depleted forcing the butterflies to move in search of new areas to lay eggs. They are not pests and the glut of butterflies actually provides a feast for birds and other insectivores. There will be a guided walk with information about the butterflies at the Nairobi Arboretum on Saturday, February 11 from 9.30am to midday.
    The Insect Committee of Nature Kenya can respond to questions on email

  3. Steve Woodhall

    Interesting post. I partly agree with Willem about the trigger being foodplant depletion, but the most likely real trigger is overcrowding of larvae. All Pierid larvae exude plant-derived chemicals from their hairs, and it is likely that when the concentration of these reaches a critical limit in the air it triggers a generation of larvae that become adults that disperse. This ensures that the next generation does not die out when the foodplant is totally depleted.

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