Tagiades flesus

Cock, Matthew J. W. & Congdon, T. Colin E., 2011, Observations on the biology of Afro-tropical Hesperiidae (Lepidoptera) principally from Kenya. Part 2. Pyrginae: Tagiadini 2893, Zootaxa 2893 (1), pp. 1-66 : 27-31

publication ID

https://doi.org/ 10.11646/zootaxa.2893.1.1

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scientific name

Tagiades flesus


Tagiades flesus ( Fabricius 1781 ( 1781 –[1782])) ( Figures 19–22)

Evans (1937) treats T. flesus as having two forms: a wet season form flesus (= ophion (Drury)) which is darker with larger spots, and a dry season form ophelia Evans which is greyer with smaller spots. Lindsey & Miller (1965) conclude that these seasonal forms cannot be reliably separated, so T. flesus should be treated as monotypic ( Ackery et al. 1995).

Like Larsen (1991), I consider this a widespread, but uncommon species in Kenya, found in forested areas throughout. Sevastopulo (1974) lists it as common in Makadara Forest, yet I have not seen it there. Perhaps because it is large and conspicuous it is over-represented in collections. Equally because of its high perching habits it may come more to the attention of collectors looking for other groups of butterflies. Larsen (2005) suggests that it is so well represented in collections because it is “large, common, lives in varied environments, and adopts different modes of flight at different times”.

Adult behaviour

I have observed in Ngong Forest, Nairobi, that specimens rest some 4–5 m off the ground, and probably use these perches to defend territories which may be a path or a clearing. However, in Kakamega Forest (several observations) and Arabuko–Sokoke Forest (one observation) they tend to rest under leaves with their wings spread, about 1–2 m off the ground. Both sexes come occasionally to flowers, and are also attracted to bird droppings and sometimes to water ( Larsen 1991, 2005). They are always wary and difficult to capture, except when returning to a territorial perch.

Food plants

Dollman (unpublished) found caterpillars at Solwezi, Zambia, on “mulombo”, which he considered to be a “large chordate leaved convolvulaceous climber”, although N.D. Riley (in Dollman unpublished) associated the name with Stathmostelma sp. ( Apocynaceae ). In view of subsequent records, these were probably misidentifications for a Dioscorea sp. The earliest published food plant record that I have found is a record from Dioscorea sp. in Nigeria ( Golding 1927). Le Pelley (1959) gives Dioscorea sp. as the food plant in Uganda, and Gifford (1965) gives the same food plant in his list of butterflies of Malawi, but it is not clear whether this is a local observation or repeated from the earlier records. In South Africa, wild yam, D. cotinifolia (= D. malifolia ), is recorded as the food plant ( Platt 1921; Murray 1959; Dickson & Kroon 1978; Migdoll 1988; Pringle et al. 1994; Henning et al. 1997; Heath et al. 2002). I have seen a skipper leaf shelter on cultivated yam in Côte d'Ivoire which was most likely this species, so it has the potential to be a minor pest of that crop, although Korada et al. (2010) only mention records of Tagiades spp. from Papua New Guinea in their review of the pests of yams.

Sevastopulo (1974) lists Dioscorea sp. and Grewia spp. as the food plants of T. flesus in his list of the butterflies of the Shimba Hills, and repeats this information in his list of the food plants of East African Macrolepidoptera ( Sevastopulo 1975), as does Larsen (2005). However, he does not seem to have reared this species himself (Sevastopulo unpublished), so the source of the record from Grewia sp. is unknown and as far as I know the record has not been confirmed, so that it is tempting to discard it. I have searched repeatedly on Grewia similis in Ngong Forest where T. flesus occurs, and checked other Grewia spp. elsewhere when I encountered them, but never found caterpillars of this species in Kenya. However, TCEC has reared this species from Leptonychia usambarensis ( Malvaceae ) from the South Pare Mountains of north-eastern Tanzania, so other records from Malvaceae cannot be discounted. This record confirms that T. flesus feeds on species of both monocotyledon and dicotyledon families.

Vuattoux (1999) reports rearing this species on Teclea verdoorniana ( Rutaceae ), which Larsen (2005) considered surprising – at that time, no reliable records of T. flesus feeding on dicotyledon families were available, and even so confirmation would be desirable.

The observations which follow are based on my experience in Côte d'Ivoire, where I found T. flesus common in the Forêt du Yapo, and found and reared one caterpillar on a Dioscorea sp. (88/217). The life cycle is illustrated in detail by G.C. Clark (in Dickson & Kroon 1978) and Henning et al. (1997) include photographs of the final instar caterpillar and pupa. Neither account shows significant difference to what I observed in Côte d'Ivoire.


I have not seen the ovum, but G.C. Clark (Plate 4 in Dickson & Kroon 1978) illustrates a rounded ovum, white when newly laid becoming red as it matures, with 16 ribs. Eggs are laid singly on the leaf upper surface and the egg shell is not eaten. In Clark’s plate and text there is no indication or mention of the egg being covered with hairs or scales. This is unexpected as the female has anal wool ( Evans 1937; Larsen 2005). Moreover, Larsen (2005) refers to A. Heath’s observation that he “saw the female rubbing the end of the abdomen over the single egg till it was so well camouflaged as to be almost invisible as an egg.” G.C. Clark (in Dickson & Kroon 1978, plate 5) also illustrated the ovum of Eagris nottoana with no hair covering, but comments in the accompanying text that it is “covered with abdominal scales”; it seems likely that he overlooked mentioning the hair covering for the egg of T. flesus , or it was missed when preparing the text from his posthumous notes.

Leaf shelters

The caterpillar “cuts an elliptical trench on a leaf and doubles the cut portion over to form a purse-like cache in which it lives. It makes bigger ones as it grows” (Clark in Dickson & Kroon 1978). I think this description refers to a stage 1 shelter only, which is a one-cut shelter similar to those made by the other members of this tribe, but later shelters are two-cut shelters. However, the stage 1 shelters of T. litigiosa Möschler and T. japetus obscurus Mabille described and illustrated from India by Bell (1923a) are two-cut shelters, so careful observations on the early shelters of T. flesus would be welcome. In Côte d’Ivoire, I found a late fourth (penultimate) instar caterpillar in the shelter shown in Figure 20 View FIGURE 20 , a long narrow two-cut shelter, hinged at one narrow end, and most of one long side formed by the outer margin of the leaf.


Dollman (unpublished) painted the mature caterpillar in dorsal view; apart from the dorsoposterior part of the head being extensively dark, it resembles that shown in Figure 21. G.C View FIGURE 21 . Clark (in Dickson & Kroon 1978) illustrates and documents five instars, the final growing to 28mm in length. In my rearing, the fourth (i.e. penultimate) instar caterpillar (88/217) measured 22mm when collected 10 Dec 1988. The head was shield-shaped with the vertex broadly indented, 2.8 x 2.8mm wide x high; the upper half of the head was brown and the lower half dark brown; dorsal plate T1 brown; body shiny translucent red; the gonads were visible as subdorsal semicircles on the posterior margin of A5. It moulted two days later. No written description of the final instar was prepared, but it is similar to the penultimate instar; the head is 4.1 x 4.1mm; there is clear dorsal line, and the body has scattered pale speckles, more intense on segments T2–3 and laterally on the abdominal segments ( Figure 21.1 View FIGURE 21 ). Although the body appears completely smooth, examination of the cast final instar skin at 40x magnification with a binocular microscope shows scattered short, simple, pale setae, but no covering of very short setae like those observed in Eagris spp. The caterpillar appears very similar to that illustrated by Henning et al. (1997) except that the developing gonads are obvious in the Côte d’Ivoire individual. The final instar lasted 10 days. Dollman (unpublished) and G.C. Clark (in Dickson & Kroon 1978) found that at the end of the final instar, the caterpillar turns green, the former writing “the lateral and thoracic dorsal [areas] become obscure green, and the medio-dorsal purple much less striking”.


The pupa is formed within silk bound leaves (Clark in Dickson & Kroon 1978). It is strikingly marked in white, with a small blunt projection from the front of the head ( Figure 22 View FIGURE 22 ), but no description was prepared from my rearing. G.C. Clark (in Dickson & Kroon 1978) states that the pupa is “dusted with white powder”. This is not quite correct; the white markings of the pupa are formed by a thin, firmly applied coating of white wax with no loose dusting. The white markings can be removed easily by gently rubbing, leaving the transparent pupal case visible. The markings of the pupae from Côte d’Ivoire and southern Africa seem very similar, although the southern Africa pupa illustrated by Henning et al. (1997) seems to be greyer in tone (possibly due to subdued lighting for the photograph). The Côte d’Ivoire pupa (a male) took 15 days to complete development, compared to 21 days reported by G.C. Clark (in Dickson & Kroon 1978).


The ova of both Eagris spp. and T. flesus are covered with hairs or hair-like scales. The caterpillar of T. flesus resembles those of the earlier instars of Eagris spp. , with regard to the red body and brown shield-shaped head indented at the vertex. The stage 1 shelters need to be confirmed – the only observation for T. flesus implies a onecut shelter, but other species of the genus in Asia make two-cut shelters. The pupae of Tagiades flesus and Eagris spp. are similarly marked in white on brown, although the frontal projection of Eagris spp. is more developed. The two genera are clearly closer to each other than to the Abantis group treated next.