Why 2019 was a good year for butterflies in Tamil Nadu

Flying through (Clockwise from top left) Blue Tiger; Common Crow, Lime Butterfly and Dark Blue Tiger

Flying through (Clockwise from top left) Blue Tiger; Common Crow, Lime Butterfly and Dark Blue Tiger   | Photo Credit: A Pavendhan

On a wing and a prayer: Conservation efforts and good monsoons ensured that 2019 was a bumper year for butterflies

Hundreds of Painted Ladies were spotted moving swiftly along the Western Ghats. Ramanasaran Hari, a member of the Tamil Nadu Butterfly Society (TNBS), describes it as “a streak of reds, deep oranges and blacks”. Calling it an “unforgettable sight,” Ramanasaran, who recorded the migration of these butterflies, said, “This is significant because they have been spotted here for the first time in many years.” The butterflies present themselves in a kaleidoscope of colours — red, orange and black while they fly and yellow, green and brown when at rest, explains Ramanasaran.

While there are no records of these migrations in India, their travels from North and Central America to Mexico and then again from North Africa to Europe are well documented. The butterflies have been travelling 15,000 km between Africa and Europe for many generations.

They came into Tamil Nadu from Gujarat and Punjab and a WhatsApp group on butterfly migration by Kalesh Sivadasan of Travancore Natural History Society helped enthusiasts track them. “Many of our members saw them in good numbers in Madurai, Chennai and Coimbatore,” says A Pavendhan of TNBS. “We have been documenting butterfly migration for the last 10 years. This is the first time we are seeing the Painted Lady migration.”

Last year has been a good one for butterflies. “In Tamil Nadu, we saw the mass movement of butterfly species such as the Crows and Tigers from the Eastern Ghats to the Western Ghats from September to October. And a reverse migration in April and May. This can be correlated to the good monsoons. The emigrant butterflies like the Albatross and Lime kept their date with migration in October. When there is no disturbance to naturally occurring events, it indicates that the associated environment is good,” explains Pavendhan

A number of integrated bird and butterfly surveys in the Coimbatore Forest Division and Satyamangalam Tiger Reserve put the spotlight on butterflies. For example, the Sinhalese Five Ring butterfly was spotted and recorded for the first time in Coimbatore. Says Pavendhan, “In Satyamangalam forests, we recorded a well established population of the butterfly, which is good news for conservation. The rarely spotted Nilgiris Tit, a species traditionally seen only in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, was spotted at Satyamangalam in the Eastern Ghats. All these point to an urgent need to map butterflies in the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats.”

Common Emigrant

Common Emigrant   | Photo Credit: A Pavendhan

Butterfly enthusiasts reiterate how a healthy population of butterflies indicates a healthy eco-system. “Birds and butterflies are significant ecological indicators. We did a number of integrated studies with the forest department. It is noteworthy that, in 2019, Tamil Yeoman was declared as the State butterfly.”

Other rare butterflies that fluttered by Tamil Nadu include the Transparent Pierrot (first photographed record for South India), Common Onyx (first time in the Eastern Ghats) and the Black-spotted Pierrot (previously spotted only at two or three places in Tamil Nadu). Elavarasan M recorded them at Yercaud Foothills in Salem. He says, “I also observed the migration of emigrants for the first time. To watch those colourful waves is an experience to remember.”

Rare visitors
  • Sinhalese Five Ring
  • Silver Forget-me-not
  • Nilgiris Tit
  • Transparent Pierrot
  • Common Onyx
  • Black-spotted Pierrot

R. Gopalakrishnan from Tirupur, who has been recording butterfly migration for five years, describes it as a beautiful sight. “Especially, when you know the background of the phenomenon. Why do they move? Are they taking the right path? How do these tiny little creatures form a group ? It is fascinating.”

Painted Lady

Painted Lady   | Photo Credit: A Pavendhan

Some places in Tamil Nadu also emerged as a butterfly hotspots — for example, Kallar at Mettupalayam in Tamil Nadu that falls on the migration route . “We documented 200 species of butterflies, including the rarely spotted Scarse Shot Silverline, over a period of five years (2014 to 2019),” says Theivaprakasham Hari, who has recently launched a web app, Butterfly Vision, that helps you identify over 300 butterflies of the Western Ghats. The Milkweed butterflies, namely Dark Blue Tiger, Blue Tiger, Common Crow and Double-branded Crow regularly travels through Kallar. “Kallar is located on the first hairpin bend as you begin your climb towards Ooty. The fruit garden there is home to some rare flora and fauna. We have submitted a report to the Coimbatore Forest Division to declare Kallar as a butterfly hotspot. It can be a conservation model,” says Theivaprakasham.

The Silver Forget-me-not has swelled the list of butterflies in the state. Says Pavendhan. “We have 325 species in the State now. The blue beauty was spotted at the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve.”

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:46:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/2019-was-a-good-year-for-butterflies-in-tamil-nadu/article30606125.ece

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