Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Where have all the butterflies gone?


When was the last time you saw them in your garden? Delhi Times on the vanishing species...

The warning bells are ringing. India's butterfly population is dwindling fast. Thanks to a thriving smuggling industry, the Atlas moth of the Khasi Hills is almost extinct, and exotic species like the Copper Butterfly, Swallowtail, Purple Emperor, Bhutan Glory and Malabar are in danger.

* The economic value of pollination by butterflies to agriculture is $200 billion dollars per year

* Stuffed in suitcases or envelopes, butterflies are smuggled to Japan, Germany, Hong Kong, the UK, Taiwan, Singapore

* In Himachal, N-E states, Uttaranchal, children are paid Rs 150 per day to catch butterflies

* For every perfect butterfly collected by smugglers, atleast 1,000 are thrown away because their wings are crushed

* Dead butterflies are used as wall hangings, earrings, decorative items; students paste butterflies in albums

* Pesticides like Aldrin, Endosulfan, DDT and Malathion are killing butterflies

"Of the thousands of butterfly species in India, less than a thousand remain. Atleast a hundred species are on the brink of extinction," says animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi. "A fall in the population of butterflies means a decrease in the number of their predators, and an increase for their prey." Informs wildlife conservationist Mike Pandey: "Butterflies are the second largest pollinators in the world after honey bees. As the population of butterflies declines, so too will the agriculture industry. This has happened in the US."


  • Smugglers : Butterfly collectors feed a global butterfly smuggling industry, of which the Atlas Moth is a victim. Websites offer framed butterflies to collectors while claiming these creatures are farm-bred. "But the fact is, butterflies can't be bred on farms," says Mike. Adds Maneka: "The methods used to catch butterflies are so crude that for every perfect specimen, at least 1,000 are thrown away."

  • Habitat loss : While most butterflies thrive in tropical forests, species like the Purple Emperor suffer from the depletion of forest cover. And that's not all. "The plants they fed on have disappeared along with butterflies that have become extinct," says Maneka.

  • Pesticide usage : "Pesticides like Aldrin, Endosulfan, affect butterflies and humans," says Mike. Adds Maneka: "DDT and Malathion not only kill 30,000 Indians annually through direct poisoning, they have also killed many species of plants, birds and insects."


  • More greenery, less pesticides : According to Isaac Kehimkar of the Bombay Natural History Society: "An increase in the native tree cover and reduction in the usage of pesticides can help butterflies. Also, people should be encouraged to maintain natural gardens which sustain life forms rather than sterilised gardens."

  • Better anti-smuggling patrolling : "Staff of GPOs and customs departments must be on the lookout for smugglers. Besides, people must desist from buying decorative items like framed butterflies, and colleges shouldn't encourage the collection of dead specimens."


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Butterflies flit past B’lore

DH News Service Bangalore:

Many people do not know much about Indian butterflies and to study these a lot of concerted effort is required.

There is a fairly large bunch of migrants passing through the city. Nobody knows where they come from, why they moved from their homes, or where they are headed for. It might be because of lack of food, or because it is that time of the year when they make babies. No one is certain.

DH photo / S Eshwar

Because, as S Karthikeyan, State Director of the World Wildlife Federation explains, “unfortunately, we really do not know much about Indian butterflies”. Simply to study these butterflies, he says, “ a lot of concerted effort is required”.

It is a very regular phenomenon though, he says, happening twice a year -- once in April-May, and once in September-October. He has been observing it for the past decade or so.

It is mainly three species which migrate: the Dark Blue Tigers, Double Branded Crows and the Common Crows. (Yes the names are quite funny, he says, like ‘Albatross’. But, he points out, it is quite difficult to find names for over 1,500 species.)

Dr Soubadra, a conservation biologist who has had a lasting fascination for butterflies, explains that the Dark Blue Tigers are far more numerous than any other, and hardier. (The ones with fewer numbers are “not so gregarious”.)

Eating tigers

In addition, she explains, Tigers have another feature that makes them particularly distasteful to predators like birds. A diet that partly consists of milkweed makes their constitution quite alkaloid. Only young birds may try a sample of Tiger butterfly, and the aftereffects -- nausea, for one -- quickly dissuade them from going in for any more.

The trip is quite an ordeal, and is fraught with danger. High rise buildings in the city, for one, mean a lot of energy expended on navigating them (“do we go around them? Above them?”). Even the Glass House in Lalbagh is a death trap. Mr Karthikeyan says that on Saturday he saw large numbers of both the migratory and resident ones lying dead, possibly because they happened to enter the place, rose up towards the light, got lost and confused, and became too tired to find their way out.

Ultraviolet light guides butterfly migration

Posted on Sat, May. 07, 2005


Monarch butterflies making their annual migration from the eastern United States to winter residences in Mexico's Sierra Madre mountain range find their way by following a three-dimensional map made of rays of polarized ultraviolet light, according to a new study.

Though UV light is invisible to humans, to butterflies it appears as a grid in the sky that emanates from the sun, the researchers reported this week in the journal Neuron.

As the sun travels from east to west across the sky, so does the grid. To compensate, the butterflies use an internal clock that recalibrates the grid throughout the day so they can travel in a straight line, said Dr. Steven Reppert, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and co-author of the study.

Reppert and his colleagues knew the butterflies used polarized light to navigate, but they weren't sure it was from the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum.

Their suspicions were confirmed when they put the insects in a barrel-sized flight simulator and used a plastic filter to block UV light. The butterflies could still see, but they just flew around in circles.

"Without (UV), they get very confused and lose their sense of direction," said co-author Adriana Briscoe, an assistant professor at University of California, Irvine, who studies butterfly vision.

The scientists discovered that the part of the butterfly visual system that detects polarized light is dominated by photoreceptors for UV. To their surprise, they also found that those receptors are linked to neural fibers that contain a key protein used to regulate the butterfly's internal clock.

"If you want to understand the genetic basis of migration, you have to have some idea of how the information gets into the brain in the first place," Briscoe said.

Original Story Here

Where is this sea of colourful visitors heading for?

Sunday May 15 2005 11:46 IST

BANGALORE: Prominent Kannada poet, Da. Ra. Bendre might have been surely inspired by thousands of these coulorful creatures, while writing his very famous song, Pataragitti Pakka, Nodiri Anna Akka.

Today, if you take a drive around the city outskirts and green areas in the city, you will be amazed to see these little flying guests, which are flying in thousands, before they proceed further towards unknown their destination.

The guests are non other than colourful butterflies, who are on their migratory route from Eastern direction towards the West side. Every year thousands of butterflies pass through Bangalore, during their migratory process.

However, biologist are yet to trace the reason and the route of the mass migration, which butterflies follow every year. But, scientists portend that the migration starts at Andra Pradesh and go towards Western Ghats.

Every year migration takes place at pre monsoon season during the month of May and also in the months September-October. During their venture they proceed through lush green places, which naturalist call as, ‘Migratory Highway’.

S Karthikeyan, Senior Education Officer at World Wide Fund for Nature India (WWF) told this website’s newspaper that no one really knows, where these butterflies come from and where they are heading.

“Scientists in India still not have the clear picture about the migratory aspects of Indian butterflies. Unfortunately, no one could explain what triggers the migration and where it ends”, said Karthikeyan.

“It’s not necessary that the butterflies gather only in city outskirts. They are not stationary, they are on constant move. We were fortunate enough to spot more than 700 butterflies on Saturday morning in Lalbagh”, said Karthikeyan.

The dark blue tiger, double branded crow and common crow are the important species of butterflies which carry-out mass migration every year. Kartikeyan also feels that the scientist should initiate to solve the mystery of past and future of butterfly migration.

Pre monsoon in the best time to see butterflies while they travel in their migratory routes. Executive Director of Banneragatta National Park, K B Markandaiah said that the butterflies are very active during pre monsoon period.

After the monsoon they fall in dormancy phase, thus could be seen in very few numbers.

“Migration is an important process in the life-cycle of butterflies. Every year butterflies travel for longer destinations from their dwelling place”, said Markandaiah, adding that the butterflies are in more in number in the morning time at Banneragatta and surrounding places.

C S Siddarth, who has been spotting the butterflies from past couple of days said that a huge density of butterflies can be seen at Andrahalli, Harohalli and Sunkadakatte near Peenya second stage in the morning hours.

As the temperature increases the butterflies disappear from the sky. Jnanabharati University campus at Kengeri, Outer-Ring-Road, Banneraghatta are among the places where the spectacular butterfly migration can also be seen.

Naturalist also suggests that these butterflies will proceed further by next couple of days, to an unknown destination.

Origina Story is here

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Butterflies Return To Oregon Zoo By Popular Demand

By Joan Jones
Staff Writer / SouthernOregonNews.com

PORTLAND, Ore. - This summer, butterflies return to the Oregon Zoo, alighting on delighted visitors during the grand opening of Winged Wonders May 21-22. Butterfly hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the opening week. From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Butterfly admission is an additional $2.

The bevies of beautiful butterflies make their encore appearance mostly because Oregon Zoo Director Tony Vecchio received a flurry of e-mails requesting that the zoo bring the colorful creatures back for another summer.

" It's surprising how such small creatures can have such a big impact on people," said Vecchio. "I received so many impassioned e-mails from young and old alike-it was clear that we'd bring butterflies back in 2005. "

The zoo has planned a variety of fun butterfly activities for the grand opening weekend. Visitors can follow the winding path of butterflies to reach activity stations that include:

  • Drawing chalk butterflies and wildflowers on the path
  • Creating wildflower or butterfly bookmarks
  • Butterfly and wildflower face painting
  • Butterfly-themed puppet show
  • Creating butterfly finger puppets
  • Dressing up like butterflies in the pollinator game
  • Stamping activity highlighting backyard habitat
  • Learning about attracting butterflies to the home garden
  • Planting a free native seedling to attract garden butterflies

Winged Wonders showcases more than 20 species of North American butterflies and by mid-summer, the zoo will add vibrant exotic butterflies Central and South America. Colorful butterflies such as Zebra Swallowtails, Buckeyes, and Red Admirals are the main attraction. Visitors can meander through beautiful gardens with water features.

Some lucky visitors may have butterflies land on them, making this exhibit truly interactive. "Lingering" areas with benches allow visitors to sit back and be totally immersed in a world of winged wonders. Before leaving the main exhibit area, visitors can view the life cycle of a butterfly through a pupae display.

An interpretive area allows visitors to learn more about the butterflies with which they've just interacted. Interesting and fun hands-on activities explain how a butterfly uses its senses of sight, smell and taste.

The exit area consists of a butterfly garden with locally available plants native to North America. Plants include butterfly bush, cornelian cherry, kinnikinnick, spirea and dogwood, all of which attract butterflies. Here visitors discover what they can do in their own backyard to create a butterfly-friendly habitat.

"You have to think in terms of plants that will attract butterflies in all stages of their development," remarked Linda Coady Richardson, the zoo's horticultural supervisor. "The caterpillar's plant needs are different from the pupae's, which are different from the butterfly's."

The zoo's field conservation projects with endangered Oregon silverspot and Fender's blue butterflies are also featured. The interactive display describes how the zoo rears endangered butterflies. The zoo has teamed up with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) to form the Butterfly Conservation Initiative. The Initiative brings government and non-government agencies together to help save imperiled North American butterflies. A portion of the proceeds from the Oregon Zoo's butterfly exhibit helps support the zoo's butterfly education and conservation efforts.

" Most people don't realize there are endangered butterflies here in the northwest," said Vecchio. "We believe efforts in our own region are the most effective way to engage visitors in conservation actions. "We hope by connecting people to beautiful butterflies, they'll begin to care more about the environment and wildlife," he added.

Contact info: Joan Jones may be reached at joan@southernoregonnews.com.