Thursday, December 14, 2006

Butterfly Paradise

Cheryl D’Souza
‘Step into our parlour’ say the butterflies at Bannerghata Butterfly Park, the only butterfly park of its kind in India.

If you like stories about fairies, you will love the Bannerghatta Butterfly Park. Stepping into it is like stepping into fairyland! Set in the scenic surroundings of the Bannerghatta Biological Park, the Butterfly park was opened last month and has a conservatory, laboratory and an auditorium. The conservatory, which houses almost 20 different species of butterflies, is the most exciting part of the park.

A transparent dome supported by steel girders meets in a graceful arch overhead and sunlight falls within it on a vibrant, colourful landscape– one that will likely make you gasp and pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming.

Masses of poinsettia, gladiolus and other brightly coloured plants wave cheerfully in simulated breeze which comes from air vents set high up in the structure. Butterflies hover midair like golden specks in the muted glow of the sun. They survey the landscape like royalty! And royalty they undoubtedly are for everything at the park has been fine-tuned to their taste. Brightly coloured flowers have been deliberately included in the landscape as butterflies love bright colours. Containers of honey are placed in the middle of artificial flowers at different places in the park as an additional food source for the butterflies.

Tan-coloured sacks called ‘echo-absorbers’ hang from the top of the dome to reduce the noise level. There is also a tinkling waterfall that ends up as a fish pond, which adds to the natural ambience within the conservatory.

A little magic!

What is fairyland without a little magic? The Butterfly Park is witness to magic of a different sort– butterfly magic! The butterfly begins its life as an egg. From the egg hatches a larva whose main aim in life is to eat as much as possible! The larva spins itself in a chrysalis or pupa and when it is ready goes into the final and most dramatic stage of development (the magical part) ‘metamorphosis’. This is when the chrysalis opens and the podgy larva turns into a graceful butterfly!

The lifecycle of these amazing insects is depicted on large screens in the laboratory at the park. Specimens of moths and butterfly are also on display here, along with some rare species of butterfly. Some of these threatened butterflies are– the Danid Eggfly, a pretty little butterfly with white spots on its black wings and the Gaudy Baron, which is not gaudy like its name but a dainty, crimson-spotted fellow. The Southern Birdwing, Blue Mormon, Peacock Butterfly and the Crimson Rose are larger insects with strikingly coloured wings. The Common Wanderer– a delicate white butterfly with slender wings, is another butterfly on display.

The park is open from 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Tuesdays. Do visit it if you want to see what fairyland looks like.

How are butterflies beneficial to us?

  • Butterflies are good pollinators.
  • They are also ‘cleaners’— The butterfly larvae control excessive growth of vegetation by feeding on them
  • They are food for other organisms. Butterflies are eaten by birds, frogs etc so if the butterfly population were to be wiped out, it would affect the entire food web.
  • Butterflies are called ‘umbrella species’, which means protecting the butterfly’s habitat helps conserve other species too.
  • And finally they are good bio-indicators. This means they indicate and assess the health of any ecosystem.

Did you know that...

Butterflies belong to the order lepidoptera (in the class insecta), which includes moths as well.

Butterflies smell with their antennae and taste with their feet!

One of the most precious books on lepidoptera is The Aurelian (1766), by Moses Harris. The word ‘Aurelian’ comes from the name taken by early butterfly collectors.

Some differences between butterflies and moths

  • Butterflies are mainly active during the day, moths are active during night time.
  • Butterflies have smooth bodies while moths have plump, fizzy bodies.
  • Butterflies wings are perpendicular to the body when at rest. Moth’s wings are open.