Trailing butterflies

After studying the avian visitors for six months, members of Madurai Nature Forum (MNF) have now turned towards butterflies following studies conducted in Chennai, Salem, Coimbatore and recently Rajapalayam. The first part of the butterfly study was conducted last week at Alagar hills, in which MNF members identified over 40 species of the colourful winged insects. “We expect to document around 150 species in the hills,” says N.Raveendran, who during his bird walks in various pockets around the city has already documented around 70 species.

In Tamil Nadu, there are nearly 300 species of butterflies, says Pavendhan Appavu, founder of Tamil Nadu Butterflies, a Coimbatore-based naturalists group, who headed a recent study at Srivilliputtur Grizzled Squirrel Sanctuary. “Butterflies are an important part of the food chain and they are crucial for pollination and production of fruits, thus sustaining the population of birds, small reptiles and mammals. Butterflies are called as ‘Bio-indicators’ as their population is an indication of how healthy the environment is,” he says. “In States like Kerala and Karnataka, there is much awareness and research on butterflies but in Tamil Nadu it is still evolving.”

Butterfly enthusiasts say that June to August is the breeding season for the insect during which they migrate to the plains and Eastern Ghats from their home, the Western Ghats. “Along the trekking routes in Alagar hills, many butterflies can now be seen mud-puddling. They take minerals from the soil that’s necessary for reproduction,” says C. Kumaresan, who took part in the study.

“Tamil Nadu is the only State that shares both the Western and Eastern Ghats and hence the possibility of a diverse butterfly population is high. We are trying to bring in some activity in butterfly research,” says Prakash Hari, member of the Coimbatore group. “Butterflies are simple beautiful creatures that are easy to observe. Their lifespan and habits are small and easy but very important to the environment.” He says that every species has its unique properties. The life span of butterfly species range from a week to a year. The female is generally bigger in size than the male. Certain butterflies only feed on nectar, while some feed on fermented fruit extracts, animal dungs and tree resins. “Only in the caterpillar stage, a butterfly consumes leaves directly.”

Among the various issues that impact butterfly life are sand mining, human intrusion, water pollution and usage of chemical pesticides in agriculture. “There are certain species that feed on the weeds in paddy fields. They are in turn eaten by birds and reptiles. Chemical pesticides in the crops can affect this entire food link,” says Prakash. He suggests planting host crops/plants that support butterfly life. Wayside flowering shrubs such as Arali and Erukampoo, native grass (arukam pul), country karuvelam trees, Karuvepilai and Coriander plants are said to help butterflies in breeding.

“Through this study, we intend to bring out a detailed report or compilation of the various species we get to identify,” says Raveendran. “Butterfly count of a city or region depends on how good is the tree/plant cover there and how intense or bad is the pollution level.” Sholavandan, Alagar Hills, Vasimalai forests, Sirumalai and Thirumangalam are said to be the places in Madurai that nurture a good number of butterfly population. Some of the species identified at Alagar Hills are Common Emigrant, Mottled Emigrant, Common Albatros, Swat-tail, Lemon Pansy, Striped Tiger, Common Leopard and Painted Lady.

Southern Bird Wing:

Southern Bird Wing is the largest butterfly in the country that’s endemic to Western Ghats. Its wing span range from 150 to 190 mm.

They feed on nectar from domestic flowering and fruit plants and fly as high as 1,000 feet, exhibiting a typical leisurely flight. They are found even above 3,000 feet in the Western Ghats.

The male and female differ in their patterns and colours under the wings.

Southern Bird Wings lay eggs on the underside of shoots and leaves of creepers and climbers.

In Madurai, Southern Bird Wing has been sighted in Usilampatti, Vasimalai and Periyaruvi slope of Alagar Hills.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 10:00:20 PM |

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