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Figtree Blue and Other Butterflies

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by Michael P.T. Gillett

(The following article appeared in the Al Ain Newsletter of March 1994)

A short trip to acquaint one of my daughter’s school friends with Oman and its wildlife led from "Fossil Valley" to the gravel plains around Mahdah and culminated in a visit to Wadi Masah. By the time that we arrived at that locality, the day had warmed up and it was pleasantly sunny. Winter butterflies were the order of the day and the following were recorded:

Asiatic Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus)
Many examples were seen flying around lemon and other Citrus trees at the edges of the date plantations. This butterfly, originating from the Iran/Pakistan region, seems to be present in numbers all the year round in W. Masah and, of course, it is also a common butterfly in the gardens of Al Ain, when these contain the larval foodplant.

Desert White (Pontia glauconome)
Just a few seen flying along the wadi or in sunny clearings amongst the cultivated areas. Several other white pierid butterflies seen flying in the distance might also have been this species, but could not be positively identified.

Salmon Arab (Colitis fausta)
Only one example seen, a very salmon pink male, at the side of the wadi.

Blue Pansy (Precis orithya)
Small numbers were viewed at the edges of the wadi, where they were sunning themselves amongst the rocks.

Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui)
One example seen at the side of the wadi – a forerunner of the untold thousands that will gather in the area in March/April before beginning their migration northwards.

Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus)
Common at the edges of the plantations and at the sides of the wadi, wherever the larval foodplant, Calotropis procera, grows. Also seen in small numbers flying across the Buraimi-Mahdah road near to Fossil Valley, where there are large numbers of mature Calotropis bushes.

Little Tiger Blue (Tarucus balkanicus)
Fairly common on the wadi floor and in deserted fields, flying about various herbs.

Figtree Blue (Myrina silensus)
The most satisfying sighting of the day, not just because it is a very beautiful butterfly, but also because it is seen so much less often than many of the other local butterflies. On this day, the insect was seen in good numbers around its larval host, Ficus salicifolia, with as many as six or more butterflies associated with a single tree. The insects were seen in courtship flight around the upper branches, as well as sunning themselves on the leaves of lower branches or on the ground. All specimens were in fine condition and appeared newly hatched (indeed in a slightly earlier visit to the same site on December 17, the butterfly was absent). Wadi Masah is well provided with Willow-leaved Figtrees, which suggests that there is probably a sizeable population of this pretty butterfly in the wadi. I have previously recorded the insect from W. Masah (April, 1993) but not from neighboring wadis, such as Aboule, which has few figtrees.

The early sighting this year indicates that the species must have at least two generations each year. Incidentally, the bright orange and blue coloration of this butterfly is fairly accurately depicted on one of the lattice-work decorative devices that have been set up around Buraimi; look for the bottom right-hand-side butterfly on the last of these plaques as you drive back towards Al Ain town center from Buraimi.


Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan