Butterfly experts a-flutter over strange, rare specimen

2008-07-09 00:00

Butterflies for Africa has a new winged rarity that has the butterfly enthusiasts there in a state of wonder.

The “bilateral gynandromorph” butterfly, meaning part female (gyn-) and part male (andro-), unexpectedly hatched out of a pupa imported from the Philippines. The Great Mormon butterfly (Papilio memnon) has a perfect division down the centre splitting the sexes.

“We had no idea this would arrive,” said Brett Cooper, general manager at Butterflies for Africa. He said the butterfly had hatched and then flown around for a while unnoticed before it was spotted by one of the guides.

“Gynandromorphism is one of the most spectacular and rare events that occurs in the insect world.”

Cooper said it is an extremely complex aberration occurring between the fertilisation of the egg and the final hatching of the pupae, which results in a mixing up of the X and Y chromosomes.

Sadly, the butterfly’s rarity means it is now on the end of a pin. “We cooled down the body temperature and it went into a state of hibernation and then died. If we had left it, it would have gotten tattered and damaged.”

The butterfly will be on display at Butterflies for Africa until mid-August after which it will be auctioned by Christies in London. Cooper said Christies estimate it may fetch up to R18 000.

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