Adding colours to their lives, these residents invite butterflies into their homes

After returning home exhausted from work every day, a few minutes with the butterflies fluttering around the balcony of his house is just what the doctor ordered for Ajay Jayant Nadkarni, a financial consultant from Vile Parle. In the last one year, the Nadkarnis have savoured every moment of transformation in the life cycle of these winged beauties, now numbering 10.

The Nadkarni family and their Omvijayshree housing society are among a few in Mumbai to have successfully developed a butterfly garden in their balconies and the building compound, thanks to the guidance of the Urban Biodiversity Conservation Group (UBCG), a team of nature lovers.

How it started

Last June, 31-year-old Mr. Nadkarni came to know about plants that attract butterflies. “With the help of my friend Rizwan Mithawala, who is a butterfly expert, I bought some host and nectar saplings from the Maharashtra Nature Park, Mahim. First, I planted them in my balconies and then in the society garden, after getting permission from the society secretary,” he said.

Within a week, there were nearly 14 caterpillars on the plants. As per the advice of Samir Gulavane and Sandeep Ranade of the UBCG, Mr. Nadkarni planted an additional 50 saplings — a mixture of host and nectar plants — in the society and his balconies in August.

“In September, I spotted five-six butterflies in my balconies and another 10-12 in the society garden. All of them were of the common lime and common mormon species. Spurred by this, I planted two Mussaenda saplings (host plant for commander butterflies) in the society and, the very next week, there were many caterpillars,” he said.

According to Mr. Nadkarni, the society has become home to more than 30 species of butterflies, including the Sahyadri blue oakleaf, common evening brown, black rajah, plain tiger, and common leopard. “It is incredible to see a crawling caterpillar become an immovable pupa and finally turn into a dazzling butterfly,” he said.

So enamoured is the family with the creatures, Mr. Nadkarni said, that the first word his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ananya uttered was ‘caterpillar’. Inspired by his success, five housing societies have approached him to set up their own butterfly gardens.

He commended UBCG members for encouraging him and clearing his doubts. “They taught me how important it is to know the behaviour of these species for their conservation.”

The Thane-based UBCG was formed in October 2014 to create awareness of biodiversity conservation, and to carry out scientific studies and initiate conservation at the society level, involving citizens. Its members have completed various environment-related courses, and take guidance from experts in the field.

Eroding habitat

Mr. Gulavane said butterflies are close to the hearts of all members. “Rapid urbanisation is destroying wildlife, and butterflies, too, are losing their habitat. It is important to utilise available spaces [for conservation], and so we help housing societies develop butterfly gardens.”

Other than planting host and nectar plants, he said, people can even hang coconut shells filled with rotten custard apples, bananas, and pineapples from the trees in their garden. “Species of common palmfly, common evening brown, Sahyadri blue oakleaf, and black rajah generally fall for such fruit bait,” he said.

In June 2017, the group set up such gardens in three societies — Neelkanth Heights, Solanki Dham, and Gawand Bagh — in Thane. Mr. Ranade said society members and residents not only planted butterfly-friendly saplings, but also recorded the species in the gardens. “Residents of Neelkanth Heights recorded 48 species within six months. There are 150 species recorded in Mumbai,” he said.

At Neelkanth Heights, 10 flats have butterfly gardens in their balconies, according to Navin Augustine, one of the residents who has opened up his balconies to the winged creatures. Besides, he said, they have a dedicated team to look after the butterflies in the nearly one-acre society garden.

Mr. Augustine, a director of a microfinance company, said the gardens bring joy not just to the residents, but to passers-by as well. “Often, morning walkers come with their cameras to take pictures of the butterflies. Our target is to spot more species than those seen in Sanjay Gandhi National Park,” he said.

Among the species spotted in the three societies are chocolate pansy, common baron, common crow, common emigrant, common evening brown, common grass yellow, common jay, common jezebel, common mormon, striped tiger, and tailed jay. In November 2017, the UBCG and the societies submitted a report on this to Raju Kasambe, assistant director, education, Bombay Natural History Society.

Mr. Kasambe has always provided guidance to the UBCG. “Instead of planting flower plants that only offer a visual treat, we should plant saplings that attract butterflies whose habitat has shrunk due to urbanisation. The UBCG’s project is gradually reaching the common man, though there is a need for more awareness,” he said.

Added benefits

The gardens serve another purpose — making children interested in nature. Children can observe the entire life cycle of a butterfly, from an egg to a caterpillar to a pupa to a butterfly, right outside their homes. “It is one of the best ways to bring them closer to nature. Looking at butterflies is indeed a stress buster for all age groups. Besides, such gardens lure local birds and other fauna,” Archana Sonar, a member of the UBCG, said.

Jayesh Shevade, another group member, said the general perception of a garden is a place with exotic plants where children can play. “For a butterfly garden, we can use plants of local varieties, many of whom have medicinal values. These plants also attract other insects, which is good for the environment. The project is educational, as the gardener has to learn how to look after plants that are home to different butterfly species.”

He also said awareness is the need of the hour. “It is very difficult to convince housing societies to develop such a garden as they are sceptical of its success.”

The peak season for butterflies is typically from September to February. “You can expect an increase in their numbers in your garden during this period,” UBCG member Vishal Shinde said.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 8:18:03 PM |

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