Thursday, April 05, 2007

FLYING JEWELS OF THE HIMALAYAN MEADOWS

By Bhaiya Khanal
Biodiversity integrates all the living components of nature, of them butterfly is the one, which besides its enchanting beauty has contributed significantly to bring about cross pollinations over flowering plants and providing recreational values to many nature enthusiasts. Of the total record of 650 species of butterflies in Nepal, the remarkably differing pattern of geographical construction has localized various species in different bio-climatic zones of the country. The ongoing investigations have indicated that the terai and midhill's representation for this insect is enormously rich as compared to the Himalayan species. Among highland fliers, the incredible Apollo (Parnassius) butterfly adds exceptional beauty to the lustrous meadows of breathtaking Himalayan
nature.'

Apollos are medium sized butterflies particularly adapted to cold climate of alpine zone. This magnificent flier displays distinct red or blue spots upon its black or white ground colour. Apollo butterflies exist in many parts of the world and are represented with various distinct species and races. These flying jewels of nature have their body features characteristically modified to cope with the adverse climate of high land areas. Almost all the species of this butterfly have a single generation except the Red Apollo which displays two generations annually. The diversity of this colorful flier in remote Himalayas is still under the process of deep investigation, the current explored data reveals a list of seven species of this butterfly in Nepal. The distribution of this fragile insect strictly follows the elevation of 2800 m above the mountains. One of the notable features of this creature is its horny abdominal pouch in female which is interestingly formed at the end of copulation process. This pouch actually is the compact sealing of female sex organ with a quickly drying chemical discharged by the male during the course of fertilization. This strictly hinders other males from being mated to pouch bearing females.

This dried pouch is dropped just before the eggs are laid off. Very least exploration on this robust insect has been carried out so far due to complicated terrains and difficult accessibility to the habitats where they exist. They are found in very remote parts usually bounded up with high passes and deep valleys. The study of Himalayan Apollo is an interesting subject as their life is limited to a short summer and major portions of their habitats remain under heavy snow for more than eight months a year. These gorgeous mountain dwellers became widespread during glaciation's period. In post ice age period as the temperature rose up, these butterflies migrated to the western mountains and by the law of natural selection, they subsequently evolved into distinct species and races thus fitting themselves to survive into the new environment condition. Among the known species, Banded
Apollo in fact is a rare species which can be seen upon rock cliffs and complicated landscape of the eastern Himalaya, Manang and Mustang of Nepal. Its beauty has been adorned by dark red spots upon shining black wings. It inhabits at the lowest range of 3790 m to the maximum of 5245 m, basically within the perimeter of undisturbed Himalayan lands. The distributional range of this species is extended to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Northern India and China. A well known Swiss lepidopterist Dr. Hans J. Epstein, the team Leader of International Lepidoptera Expedition to Nepal Himalayas, had collected three new races of this butterfly in 1977 at 5310 m of west Nepal. These races were named after Epstein's son Mark, Lauri and an American entomologist Dr. Okaly Shields, all team members of this significant expedition.

The Dusky Apollo is a rare species of Nepal Himalayas. Its first finding was made by a Japanese entomologist at 5400 m of upper Mustang. This new sub species was collected by Katshukita Hori in 1983 and was published by Dr. Oshima in Tyo To Ga Journal of Japan in 1985. No further investigation has been made on this species since then. This race has been named after Hori, the first collector of this butterfly. The glorious Common Red Apollo flies at the altitude of 3030 m to 5245 m and is moderately a common species in Nepal. It prefers grassy habitat and extends its wing to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Northern India, Tibet and China. The Blue Apollo is a magnificent flier of the Himalayan meadows. This species shows an interesting display of two distinct forms. The spring form flies at 3520 m to 4730 m in February to June while the summer form occurs at 2580 m to 4490 m in June to November. Various researches conducted with this butterfly have clearly indicated its gap in many potential sites along the Himalayan belt. There are in total of 55 recognized species of Apollo butterflies all over the world. The Eisner collection, now in the museum at Leiden Holland, is probably the largest one. One of the rare species, the Varnished Apollo occurs in Mt.Everest region and was reported at the altitudinal point of 5640 m. Gray Regal Apollo is incredibly a decorated species occurring between the elevations of 4420-4880 m. The males of this rare butterfly circle for longer periods over mountain peaks and are seldom captured. Females normally fly upon alpine meadows at little below the male's territory. The occurrence of this species in Nepal still needs confirmation. The insect fauna of the Himalayas has complex admixture of the Indochinese, Malayan, Indian Peninsular and Palearctic forms. The highest elevation at which insect exists on the Himalaya is about 6900 m. The Palearctic Region which runs above 3000 m of elevation accommodates interesting insect species and indeed is a challenge for any serious researchers of entomology.

Very little attention has been paid on insect's conservation in Nepal. In many developing countries, higher animals are mostly prioritized under effective conservation policies while small animals and insects fall under least priorities. The unlawful trade of insects is environmentally destructive business which now is booming in many developed nations across the globe. Parnassius or Apollo is the most prized species for the poachers which can make them millionaire overnight. Due to ongoing illegal practices, the population of this butterfly is under declining level especially in the accessible pockets of high mountain areas. Other related factors to its decline count the habitat destruction, ruthless collection, parasitic attacks on caterpillars, predation and competition with other species for food.

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1 Comments:

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