Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Follow the butterfly trail

RAJIV SINGH

Delhi offers a great selection of butterflies for the avid watchers.

Despite Delhi being described as the second most polluted city of the world, it supports 80 species of butterflies, far more than the total tally of 56 supported by the whole of U.K. though I am yet to spot all the butterflies — especially the "Blues" — likely to be present here.

BUTTERFLIES APLENTY: Take time off and watch these beauties. PHOTO: RAJIV SINGH


The first and most important discovery is that butterflies are not to be found in well-maintained gardens, but in the undeveloped wild patches like Okhla reservoir area, The Ridge forest, ruins of the Tughlakabad fort and the like. The second revelation was that the Plain Tiger is the king of butterflies in Delhi. It is not only seen in great numbers but also quite common and seen throughout the year. In groups of whites and yellows, the Common Emigrant is the most common butterfly followed by Large Cabbage White and the Grass Yellow. In Nodia, Kasod (Cassia siame) is extensively planted as avenue trees attracting a large number of Common Emigrants, which lay their eggs on the tender leaves of the tree. Large Cabbage White Butterfly is a new (less than two decades) entrant in Delhi. It is a montane species, which descends to the plains during peak winter. Its return migration back to the Himalayas during spring is a joy to watch.

Interesting varieties

Plain Tiger, Striped Tiger, Blue Tiger and Common Crow represent the group of Tigers and Crows. Swallowtails are among one of the biggest butterflies seen in Delhi. The Nymphs belong to the most beautiful group of butterflies. In India we have five species of Pansy butterflies and interestingly all five can be seen in Delhi. Males of Danaid and Great Eggfly look similar with deep brown wings decorated with three iridescent blue circled white egg-shaped spots on each forewing (and this is the reason why in some countries it is also called the Three Moon Butterfly). Females of Great Eggfly mimic the Common Crow butterfly.

Similiarly, the female Danaid Eggfly is a perfect mimic of the Plain tiger, a milkweed butterfly whose body is filled with the poisonous chemicals derived from the milkweed (aak) shrub — its larval food plant. Female Danaid Eggfly can be seen feeding alongside Plain Tigers, quite assured of the protection provided by its model. Over a period of time birds have learnt to avoid the unpalatable Plain Tigers.

Browns are represented by only three butterflies. The Common Evening Brown is a rather big butterfly seen fluttering at dusk close to the ground. The other two are the Common Bushbrown and the Lesser Three-ring. These are found under soggy bushes and climbers in relatively dark areas.

Blues include some of the smallest butterflies. Except for the Red Flash, all the others are easily spotted. Grass Jewel is the smallest Indian butterfly which is becoming quite rare in Delhi and its surrounding areas.

Skippers are brown coloured butterflies, which look like moths. The Common Banded Awl is a very tough species that thrives even in the smoke laden lanes of Nehru Place, where its caterpillars feed on the leaves of the Pangam (kanji) trees.

Story


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