Monday, March 26, 2007

Taiwan offers 'freeway' for butterflies

Sat Mar 24, 6:35 PM ET

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan will cordon off part of a highway to create a safe passage for a massive seasonal butterfly migration in the coming days, an official said Saturday.

In the undated image released by the Butterfly Conservation Society of Taiwan, a Milkweed butterfly lands on a branch in Taiwan. The milkweed butterflies, which are indigenous to the island off China and have distinct white dots on purple brown wings, migrate in late March from southern Taiwan to the north, where they lay eggs and die. (AP Photo/Butterfly Conservation Society of Taiwan/HO)
AP Photo: In the undated image released by the Butterfly Conservation Society of Taiwan, a Milkweed butterfly...

The milkweed butterflies — which are indigenous to the island off China and have distinct white dots on purple brown wings — migrate in late March from southern Taiwan to the north, where they lay eggs and die.

The young butterflies then fly south every November to a warm mountain valley near the southern city of Kaohsiung to escape the winter cold in the north.

Conservationists say Taiwan has about 2 million milkweed butterflies.

To protect the migrating butterflies, a 600-yard stretch of highway in southern Taiwan's Yunlin County will be sealed off in the coming days as the migration peaks, said Lee Tai-ming, head of the National Freeway Bureau.

Authorities will set up nets to make the butterflies fly higher and avoid passing cars, Lee said.

He said they will also install ultraviolet lights to guide the insects across a highway overpass.

Taiwan began the laborious task of tracking down the butterflies' 180-mile migration paths in recent years.

Taiwan originally had more types of milkweed butterflies, but the largest became extinct decades ago when they were routinely caught and made into specimens for sale, the newspaper said.


Highway shut for butterfly travel in Taiwan

aiwan is to close one lane of a major highway to protect more than a million butterflies, which cross the road on their seasonal migration.

The purple milkweed butterfly, which winters in the south of the island, passes over some 600m of motorway to reach its breeding ground in the north.

Many of the 11,500 butterflies that attempt the journey each hour do not reach safety, experts say.

Protective nets and ultra-violet lights will also be used to aid the insects.

Taiwanese officials conceded that the decision to close one lane of the road would cause some traffic congestion, but said it was a price worth paying.

"Human beings need to coexist with the other species, even if they are tiny butterflies," Lee Thay-ming, of the National Freeway Bureau, told the AFP news agency.

The purple milkweed butterfly
The migration is only one of two mass butterfly movements worldwide

Under the bridge

Each year thousands of butterflies die when turbulence generated by fast-moving cars drags them into the traffic or under the wheels of oncoming vehicles.

Ecologists hope the triple-action effort of lane closure, protective nets and ultra-violet lighting will dramatically increase the milkweed's chances of reaching the breeding ground.

The protective nets are designed to force the butterflies to fly higher, reducing the chances of them getting caught in the traffic.

Ultra-violet lighting will be used below an elevated section of road to encourage the butterflies to head beneath.

The measures are estimated to have cost $30,000 (£15,200).


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Monday, March 12, 2007

The migrating butterflies

Nivedita Ganguly

An interesting annual phenomenon under study

— Photo: K.R. Deepak

AT HOME: A migrant butterfly and a caterpillar at the biodiversity park in Visakhapatnam this past week.

VISAKHAPATNAM: The iridescent, velvety wings flutter around in swarms: the seasonal visitors are here again. For a few years now, during the period December-February, a throng of butterflies have made their appearance in pockets of Visakhapatnam district. Environmentalists and nature-lovers are monitoring the phenomenon.

"We have been observing this peculiar behaviour of the crow and tiger butterflies," says Prof. M. Rama Murty of the Dolphin Nature Club, a founder-member of the biodiversity park at the RCD Government Hospital here.

A recent study by environmental organisations showed that the "tiger" and "crow" butterflies have a tendency to migrate in large groups from the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats during certain periods of the year. Such arrivals have been observed also in Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore in Karnataka; Palakkad and Kannur in Kerala; Coimbatore, Udhagamandalam, Vellore and Chennai in Tamil Nadu, and Tirupati, also in Andhra Pradesh. It has been witnessed also in some wildlife sanctuaries.

The insects migrate in clusters and for a specific period remain rooted to a spot, where they copulate. "Interestingly, migration of butterflies is different from that of birds since the ones that return are not the original butterflies," says Mr. Murty.

The long-distance migration can be attributed to a combination of climatic factors, food availability and breeding habitat preferences.

"The most obvious cause for migrations is a rapid expansion of the population of one or more species in an area leading to reduced food supply," Mr. Rama Murty says.

The migration route is yet to be determined. The groups consist of over 20 species .

The migration of the North American Monarch butterfly from Canada and northern United States to Mexico in autumn and the return journey in spring is well known. In India, larger-scale migrations occur in the Western Ghats. "In southern India, butterfly migrations have been documented in the Palni Hills and places like Assam and Rajasthan. Twenty-two species are known to migrate, travelling south in October during the rainy season," says Prudhvi Raj of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun.

But why do the butterflies flock to only certain plants? "The males, on emerging from their pupae, lack certain chemicals essential to the process of courting females. Butterflies need pyrrolizidine alkaloids for the production of these sexual pheromones and these are obtained from plants such as Crotalaria, Heliotropium and Senecio subdiscoideus," says Mr. Raj.

Some action patterns are observed, including `mud-puddling', wherein the butterflies land on wet mud and suck salt and other minerals and nutrients from the soil.

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GE scientists discover nanostructures on the surface of butterfly wings

Scientists working to replicate butterfly wing’s unique properties in the lab; develop man-made, nano-engineered chemical sensors for diverse vapor-detection applications ranging from security and manufacturing to healthcare
28 Feb 2007 , Niskayuna, N.Y. : GE Global Research, the centralized research organization of the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), today announced researchers have discovered that the nanostructures on the wing scales of butterflies exhibit high-performance optical properties that facilitate a selective detection of vapors. The finding could lead to the design of highly acute chemical sensors for diverse vapor-detection applications ranging from security to manufacturing and healthcare.

GE’s research team, led by Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, an analytical chemist in the Chemical and Biological Sensing Laboratory at Global Research’s headquarters in Niskayuna, reported its discovery in the latest issue of the journal, Nature Photonics. The article is this month’s featured cover story and can be accessed at the following link:


Horizon Intern Maan Barua Receives OIL India Young Achievers Award

The Assam Tribune announced that Maan Barau, a Horizon Intern who has launched the Butterfly Conservation Initiative with the assistance of Horizon International was one of five recipients to win Oil India Young Achievers Award on February 4, 2007.

Maan Barau receives award from Sri Pradyut Bordoloi, Honorable Minister of Power, Assam, India.

Maan Singh Kharangi Baruah has an international repute for his activities related to bird watching.

Other youth recognized were Rajib Basumatary for playing for the junior Indian archery team, Jayanta Kumar Das, a youth leader and social activist, Abu Nechim Ahmed, playing for the Indian cricket team under 19 and Julie Baruah, the Cottonian who had showed great courage in the face of adversity when she lost both hands in an accident, won the award.

Maan Barua's Award

The award included a cash prize of Rs 25,000, a trophy and a citation.

Power and industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi presented the awards to the achievers.

The awards were given in celebration of youth power by the Don Bosco Institute (DBI), Kharghuli, in association with Oil India Ltd.

Speaking on the occasion, Prof Anil Goswami, former principal of Cotton College, said that educational institutions had a duty to give exposure and provide facilities to upgrade innovative ideas of students.

Veteran Gandhian Natwar Thakkar, said that the degree of concern of a person in society decides the degree of civilization, and added that the youth of Assam are bubbling with energy to take the lead.

The Butterfly Conservation Initiative also received recognition by “Protected Area Update” one of the leading Indian newsletters on natural history and conservation issues.

“A Butterfly Conservation Initiative has been launched in Assam by a group of young and enthusiastic naturalists. Supported by Horizon International, a USA based NGO, the group has planned a number of activities to ensure their objective of butterfly conservation. This includes holding workshops in colleges and regularly monitoring of butterflies in protected areas like the Kaziranga, Orang and Nameri National Parks."

The project includes statewide fieldwork to gather baseline data and identify threats to butterfly populations, research and documentation of different species, their habitats and taxonomy and creation of a photo database to help people identify and distinguish one specimen from another. Institutions like Bajali College, Pathshala and Margherita College have already created butterfly study groups as part of the endeavour.