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Experts scour the Western Ghats forest ranges to document rarely seen butterflies and dragonflies

Ditch Jewel

Ditch Jewel   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Small and Significant: Forty four experts scour the forest ranges of the Western Ghats to document rarely seen butterflies and dragonflies

Ditch Jewel is a dragonfly with yellow-greenish eyes lined in brown. It breeds in contaminated water, and hence the name ‘ditch’. “Dragonflies are bio-indicators of water,” says P. Mohanprasath, founder of Act for Butterflies, the butterfly conservation NGO. They tied up with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department for a joint survey on butterflies and dragonflies in the Coimbatore Forest Division. “We spotted the Ditch Jewel in a stagnant puddle. We recorded the Nilgiris Torrent Dart, an indicator of fresh, clean water at Walayar,” he says.

A total of 44 experts drawn from the Bangalore Butterfly Club, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Society of Odonate Studies ( SOS) from Kerala, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Rhopalocera Odonata Association of Rajapalayam ( ROAR) to name a few took part in the survey in 15 teams “While most of the wildlife enthusiasts look at documenting mammals and birds, we look at the smaller species. Butterflies and bees are the main pollinators. Our findings is compiled as scientific data and handed over to the forest department. We are thankful to Venkatesh Durairaj, Coimbatore DFO for his support and guidance,” says Mohan.

Blue Garner

Blue Garner   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dragonflies are sensitive to pollution, says Renjith Jacob, secretary of SOS, that promotes the study of dragonflies and damselflies. “They play a significant role in the aquatic ecosystem. They feed on mosquitoes and insects that are harmful to humans. And, control insect pests in agriculture fields. They are threatened by loss of habitat, pollution, and competition from other predatory animals likes frogs, birds, lizards and wasps.”

Rampant usage of pesticides in farming also plays a part, says Mohan. “We are killing the insects and pests, which are the food of dragonflies. These are fascinating topics that can be explored for further studies. A SACON study has documented 70 species of dragonflies. There are many additions to it now.”

The team recorded the rarely spotted Blue Darner dragonfly, often found in hilly terrain, at a college campus on the Tamil Nadu — Kerala border. They spotted the endemic Black Marsh Skimmer (also called light tipped demon) dragonfly there. “The best time to look out for dragonflies is from May end, with the first monsoon rains, to October. In reserve forest and tiger reserves, there is an abundance of dragonflies. In fresh water streams, we often sight species like stream rubies, Nilgiris Torrent Dart and the Orange Marsh Dart,” says Renjith.

Malabar Banded Peacock

Malabar Banded Peacock   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Mohan says now is the best time one can look out for butterflies. “Just step out of your balcony. You will find them in your garden, neighbourhood parks or water bodies. We spotted the Nilgiris Grass Yellow butterfly. There are not many published records of this species in the last 60 years. Four years ago, Balakrishnan Valappil, a butterfly expert recorded it at Parambikulam Sanctuary in Kerala. In Tamil Nadu, though we have seen the butterflies there are no documented records. It looks similar to the One Spot Grass Yellow butterfly.”

Butterfly hotspots in Tamil Nadu
  • The Nilgiris, Rajapalayam, Kanyakumari Wildlife Sanctuary, Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Sanctuary in Tirunelveli, Parts of Kodaikanal, Dindigul, In the Eastern Ghats, you can spot them at Pachamalai in Tiruchi too
  • The survey documented 195 species of butterflies and 39 dragonfly species
  • Some rare butterflies include the Common Ciliate Blue, White Tufted Royal, Madras Ace, and Malabar Banded Peacock the State butterfly of Kerala

A. Sudha Anandhi, a post graduate student, who took part in the survey, learnt how to identify a butterfly. “The wing pattern is important,” she says. “We spotted the rarely seen Black Prince and common ones like blue bottle, sailors, bush browns and the nawab butterfly.”

“The rarely seen Orange Tail All butterfly made an appearance at Vaidehi Falls,” says Sharan Venkatesh. A bird watcher for 10 years (inspired by Banumathi’s bilingual book on Common Butterflies of Tamil Nadu), he now follows butterflies closely. “Along with Tamil Tree Brown, an endemic butterfly, we also saw the Nilgiris Torrent Dart dragonfly that is endemic to the Nilgiris, in the pristine forests there.”

Sharan recounts how he spotted the rare butterfly Evershed Sage during his first ever butterfly outing in Rajapalayam. Congratulatory messages poured in from butterfly enthusiasts. “Isaac Khemkar, the butterfly man of India from Bombay Natural History Society texted me asking if I could share the photograph for use in his book. My interest in butterflies took off from there and I still haven’t stopped,” he smiles.

The survey team

The survey team   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

He set up ROAR in his home town Rajapalayam, where he initiates students into the world of butterflies and dragonflies. ROAR has so far recorded 232 species of butterflies at Ayyanar Falls and Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajapalayam alone (there are 340 plus species in Tamil Nadu). “We visit schools and help students identify butterflies on their campus. There is a whatsapp group where the students update us. They post images, always wanting to know if they have spotted a rare species. That’s how we build interest.”

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 3:05:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/a-joint-survey-on-butterflies-and-dragonflies-in-the-coimbatore-forest-division/article29991575.ece

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