Burst of brilliant hues

From Education for Change: Butterflying helps conservation through “citizen science.”

From Education for Change: Butterflying helps conservation through “citizen science.”  


The peak season for butterflies in the city is from mid-July to September. How many different varieties can you identify?

The news broke out on Madras Naturalists Society’s online forum early July. “Butterflies are spotted!” Not all, I thought, but they meant the annual arrival of the flitting lepidoptera in the city. “I have seen lots of butterflies the past couple of weeks,” chirped Krishnan Swamy, identifying them as blue tigers, plain tigers and tawny costers. He joyously shared pictures he had shot and stored at > and > Beautiful! Is this the start of the season, he asked. He hadn’t seen this much traffic a month ago in places where he normally spotted them! M. Swamy replied: “Mid-July to September is supposed to be the peak season for butterflies in Chennai.”

Soon Krishnan Swamy was seeing a quite a bit on the highway. “Yellow grass-butterflies nearly hit my windshield but, at the last moment, glided up effortlessly on a path parallel to the glass,” he said. “You'll find them flapping near dry grassland, thick bushes on the roadside, and in the Pallikaranai marshland.” His enthusiasm got a lot of us reaching for the car keys.

Dr. Prasanna Sriya doesn't have to leave home for butterfly-selfies. “We see plenty of hummingbird moth, lime butterflies, common rose, tawny costers, crimson rose, gulls and others in our garden in Indira Nagar, Adyar,” she bragged. “I've noticed a sudden outburst of butterflies in Tambaram especially after the recent rains,” noted T. Ramashree, whose list of sightings included emigrants, blue/plain tigers, tailed jays, grass yellows, common limes, crimson roses and common crows. “Wonder if this is due to the downpour in the evening and sunlight the next day making way for mud-puddling — the right conditions for them to thrive.” Check out the area in and around MCC, she alerted us. “You'll also find them in household gardens with food plants.” This possibly made members check the bolts on their garden gate.

Surya Ramachandran had come across tailed jays in big numbers next to Accord Hotel in T. Nagar. “Should be because of the mast trees there,” she guessed. Some had seen pupae on walls, a clear attempt at adaptation. Beach-walkers confessed to chasing them over beach vegetation like ipomea.

Ramjee, Centre for Environment Education, thanked the members for encouraging him in butterfly pursuit and helping him identify the varieties. “I've learnt a lot of interesting aspects about them,” he acknowledged. Nanmangalam forest is on their travel plan, he told everyone. “I've, on occasion, pleaded with the officials to develop the space as a butterfly conservatory. Once I showed them over 23 species in two hours during a casual stroll —— black raja, blue pansy, peacock pansy, common lime — are all there.” Chennai's high humidity levels attract them in large numbers every year, since their favourite food plant — rain-dipped leaves of cassia, calotropis (milkweed) and other species grow in abundance around the city, he said. “Drive down to Muttukkadu and Anna Nagar tower for amazing colours, astounding varieties!” He is jubilant that awareness is increasing, butterfly-photo-walks are getting corporate support and digital cameras are helping everyone shoot the brilliant specimens.

Geetha Jaikumar, who works with the Theosophical Society, is probably routinely hit by a flight/rabble/swarm of butterflies in the forest. “Huge clouds of common crows, blue tigers and tawny costers are seen in TS,” she announced. That was the opening we needed to walk into this urban woodland, camera in hand.

Prof. Chandrasekaran and Dr. Mahender (loaded with cameras and lenses) meet me at TS. We see butterflies almost at once, near the gate. We walk down and spot more — over damiana (turnera diffusa) spreads alongside the path, in bushes outside Sikh Temple, sipping at Honolulu-creeper blossoms adjacent to Blavatsky's bungalow. “You'll find them sunning themselves on Asian spider flowers and lantana,” the professor tells me, as both pull out their macro lenses to capture a tawny coster caterpillar.

But my attention has shifted. I watch the gentlemen bend, sit, sprawl and stand to get better angles and superior shots. I sense their total involvement, their complete surrender to the beauties' charms. I see photographer, camera and subject merge in focused action, in a wordless bond. I train my camera on them, the butterfly worshippers, and click away.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 4:39:06 PM |

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