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Status of the Yellow Pansy Butterfly (Precis hierta) in the Al Ain Region

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by Michael P.T. Gillett

The following article appeared in the January, 1993 edition of the Newsletter.

Whilst reading through a recent copy of Tribulus magazine, I was surprised to see that the pretty Yellow Pansy butterfly (Precis hierta) was absent from a checklist of butterflies of the United Arab Emirates (Brown, 1992). My immediate thoughts were that this must be an omission, since I have seen this distinctive species on a number of occasions in the Al Ain region. However, on reflection, I realized that all such encounters had been on the Omani side of the border. With certainty, I recall seeing this species on a number of afternoon walks just off the Buraimi to Mahdah road (at around km18) during the first two weeks of May 1992. Only a small number of specimens were seen, sunning themselves amongst the rocks alongside the throngs of Blue Pansies (Precis orithya here). These trips coincided with the flowering of countless Acacia trees. Curiously enough, although the blossom had attracted swarms of pierid and lycaenid butterflies, together with bees, wasps, flies and beetles, no Yellow Pansy and only very few Blue Pansy butterflies visited the flowers. This may be due to the time of day (mid afternoon), since even in Europe many common nymphalid butterflies (Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral etc.) appear to feed in the forenoon and to spend the afternoon basking.

Given the location, which is close to Al Ain, and the presence, nearby, of similar habitants on the UAE side of the border, it seems to me that P. hierta may eventually be found over here and will very likely take its place on a future checklist of Emirates lepidoptera. Although its stronghold in this region is undoubtedly in the jebels and wadis of Oman, this butterfly should be searched for around the base of Jebel Hafit towards the end of April and at the beginning of May. Late afternoon searches should pay attention to the butterflies resting on the ground, but it is possible that expeditions made earlier in the day may find the butterfly at Acacia blossoms.

Whilst on the subject of the Arabian Pansy butterflies, it is necessary to recall that like the Painted Lady (Gillett, 1992) they also suffer from problems of nomenclature. In the interesting book on the insects of the eastern region of the Arabian Peninsula by Walker and Pittaway (1987), they are recorded under the generic name Junonia, and this name is often repeated in recent reports (e.g. Wingate, 1992). The actual generic name Junonia appears to apply to only a single American species (J. lavinia), widespread in many forms and sub-species from Canada to Argentina (Lewis, 1974; Otero, 1986). The genus Precis, as presently recognized, includes numerous species in African and, to a lesser extent, throughout Asia as far as Japan and Australia. The Blue and Yellow Pansy butterflies are not, of course, confined to Arabia, but are widely distributed throughout these neighboring regions, where they are definitely assigned to the genus Precis (Lewis, 1974). Use of the generic term Junonia is best left to transatlantic butterflies, but even there it has been suggested (Swan and Papp, 1972) that these really belong to Precis!

References

Brown, J.N.B. (1992) Butterflies of the United Arab Emirates. Tribulus 2.1; 10-11.

Gillett, M. (1992) Vanessa or Cynthia? Entomology at the Inter Emirates Hash at the Taweelah motel (29-30 October 1992). ENHG (Al Ain) Newsletter No. 127 (December 1992); 6.

Lewis, H.L. (1974) Butterflies of the World. Harrap, London.

Otero, L.S. (1986) Borboletas. Livro do Naturalista. FAE, Rio de Janeiro.

Swan, L.A. and Papp, C.S. (1972) The Common Insects of North America. Harper & Row, New York.

Walker, D.H. and Pittaway, A.R. (1987) Insects of Eastern Arabia. Macmillan, London.

Wingate, B. (1992) UAE invertebrates. Tribulus 2.2; 32.


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