Nice Butterfly!You may have seen the pictures of the orange butterflies that Joel took on Mt. Scenery? Well, there are about 27 varieties of butterflies on Saba, not to mention all the species of moths – so given my track record, I won’t definitively say what they are! The orange butterflies behave in ways I’m used to from my limited US-layperson’s observance of butterflies. They flutter along, stop on green flowering plants and tend to sit with open wings. They were also very accepting of the human interlopers that we were, allowing Joel to get some good shots.

Butterfly Safari
The black and yellow butterflies are very different in their behavior. You will find them on the Troy Hill, Sandy Cruz and especially, the Bud’s Mountain trails. In fact, if you walk the less popular, yet very beautiful Bud’s Mountain trail, you’ll feel like you are walking along in a butterflies alive experience!

The Bud’s Mountain trail is less trimmed and kept up than the other trails, often requiring moving long elephant ear plants aside while making your way forward. Perhaps the unkempt nature of the trail is part of the appeal for these butterflies. I believe they are related to the Zebra Heliconian butterflies, but I am not really certain (see, I’m leaving myself some room to be corrected at a later date :)!).

Butterfly, Flutterby
These butterflies are plentiful on the trails and it feels like you are walking right through a sheer-curtain of floating yellow and black at times. They are not overwhelming in numbers, but just enough to feel like you walked into a child’s fairytale, where perhaps a little magic is around the bend. These butterflies seem very comfortable with us as we walk along the trail – yet, unlike the orange butterflies, they never seem to stop and rest, making pictures challenging.

The other day, on the Troy Hill trail, I was actually able to capture a few of them digitally. I tried for days to get better pictures, but for a photography neophyte — who doesn’t have the patience of a great photographer – I kept ending up with the same results. See, these butterflies will float around in a given area on the Troy Hill trail – about 5 minutes before the trail slopes downward toward the township of Troy Hill. On this section of the trail, there is a tree, with long, thin viney-type branches hanging down.

Nice Butterfly!Strange Arrangement
The butterflies float around within 6 feet of this tree, weaving and floating in and around us as we walk. We almost think they would stop for awhile on our shoulder or hand, if we could only be still enough for awhile. In fact, they stop nowhere, but keep floating around. Eventually, through some unspoken agreement, they end up back at the tree with hanging viney branches, floating around it in a circular dance. Inevitably, one lands in what it thinks is just the right spot, while others continue to search for just the right section of branch. Of course, they are not always polite and you tend to see one knock the other off, causing several others to take off, reevaluating their positions. Eventually, several of them land, decorating the branches like Christmas tree ornaments.

I’ve learned to approach the resting butterflies carefully, lest I set them all a-flight for another 5 minutes of waiting. While resting, their wings are closed, which is different from the orange butterflies. The constant breeze in Saba creates a rudder effect moving their paper thin wings from side to side – further complicating my amateur photographic skills.

When To See Them
Nice Butterfly!I am fascinated by these butterflies who seem so comfortable with us in flight and so shy while resting. I love walking the Bud’s Mountain trail and having them join me as rainforest ambassadors. If you want to see them on the Troy Hill trail, try going for your hike between 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm, when you can witness their tree-vine dance routine.

I will leave open the possibility that someone will tell me these are not butterflies, but in fact, some beautiful species of moth. In any event, I hope someone who knows butterflies can identify both the orange and the yellow & black ones that we see in Saba. We’ll have to ask some of the flora and fauna experts for help here – in the meantime, if anyone else knows, please share!

More information (and better photos!):
Zebra Heliconians and Other Species
A Better Photographer Than Me! – but I’m not sure why this one is on a flower (I understand they like passion flowers) and open. Maybe Saban butterflies are different — or maybe I was observing them in a different form of behavior.