A lilac lovely in the sky

Nitin couldn’t believe his luck when he spotted the Lilac Silverline at Hesaraghatta Lake; especially since the last sighting of this butterfly was in 1903

Updated - January 18, 2013 08:33 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2013 05:24 pm IST

A brush with history: With a butterfly Photo: Nitin R.

A brush with history: With a butterfly Photo: Nitin R.

Most undergraduate’s only concern is whether they have the required percentage of attendance and giving in their assignments in the nick of time. And then, you have Nitin R. who is doing his second year BSc at St. Joseph's College, whose entire life revolves around his course. “I am interested in butterflies, dragonflies and wildlife photography,” says Nitin.

With great excitement, Nitin reveals the story of a sighting of a rare butterfly and the subsequent photograph. “I had been to Hesaraghatta Lake on the December 23 as a part of the team which was doing a rapid impact assessment study on the Hesarghatta Habitat. When I initially saw Silverlines there, I thought they were the Common Shot Silverlines (Spindasis ictis). But later I observed that these Silverlines had a different flight pattern and perching preference. So I photographed one male and sent it to Krushnamegh Kunte of GKVK, Bangalore. He identified it as the Lilac Silverline (Apharitis lilacinus) and told me that the last known sighting was in 1903.”

According to Nitin, this butterfly is known to frequent open grasslands and fields and there is no particular habit preference that has been established by now. So the chances of spotting this butterfly, is more on open grasslands, in the morning.

Nitin goes on to explain that this butterfly was first described by Moore in 1884, based on a single male specimen from the collection of the Indian Museum, Calcutta whose origin was unknown.

The description according to Marshall and De Niceville (1890) is that the upperside of the male butterfly is marked with pale iridescent blue. And, the colour off the ground on the underside varies a good deal, with some a primrose-yellow and others inclined to ochre, blending into brick red.

Seshadri K. S., an ecologist based at ATREE, Bangalore, says, “Even as there is dearth of knowledge on this rare find, the Hesaraghatta Tank bed, where it was observed is already at risk. Every weekend, one can see up to 15 photographers driving on the tank bed in cars. This invariably leads to crushing of the host plants for butterflies.”

Kunte, PhD Ramanujan Fellow and Reader at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), says, “There are many butterfly species that had historically been reported as rare in places such as Bangalore, the Nilgiris, Sikkim and the Khasi Hills. Many of these species have not been recorded in a long time and few people know what they look like. One such species was the Lilac Silverline, which was reported from Bangalore in several old books. So Nitin’s records are a pleasant surprise and I am very glad that this tiny and beautiful butterfly has persisted.

Kunte says that these sightings prove that there still is a breeding population of this rare species, which is important because this species is legally protected in India under Schedule II of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

He hopes that local NGOs, nature enthusiasts and the Karnataka Forest Department will come together to protect this habitat for the rare birds and butterflies that are found there.

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