Chasing butterflies in Chennai

Though it is not peak butterfly season, Adyar Poonga still bustles with the bright winged species. Read this, then visit

Published - September 12, 2019 05:25 pm IST

   Common grass yellow

Common grass yellow

It is a hot and humid Saturday afternoon at Adyar Poonga — the restored wetland eco-park at Adyar Creek. A butterfly walk organised by the 40-year-old Madras Naturalists’ Society (MNS) for Madras Week, rescheduled to September due to rain, has brought together a mixed group of Nature enthusiasts, from toddlers to senior citizens. We are welcomed by the MNS’ secretary G Vijay Kumar, who introduces R Bhanumathi, the environment educationist and butterfly expert who will be taking us around the park.

Armed with a glossy handbook on butterflies that she has authored, Bhanumathi begins with an introduction to butterfly-watching. She tells us that butterflies and moths belong to the lepidoptera (scaly-winged insects) species, and the powdery-substance on their wings are actually thousands of tiny overlapping scales that form patterns and colours. “There are around 1,200 species of butterflies in India... we can find quite a few interesting ones here at Adyar Poonga.” She cautions that we will have to be very quiet while observing, as butterflies are sensitive to sudden movements around them.

Globally, butterflies are considered indicative of a healthy ecosystem, and Adyar Poonga seems to have succeeded on that front. Though we are a tad late — peak butterfly season is in August — there are enough butterflies around to keep us on our toes.

We chance upon a group of common grass yellows first, flitting around close to the ground over a patch of wild tridax flowers, and it sends the group into a frenzy. “What’s that yellow one?” asks a little one excitedly and Bhanumathi deftly turns the pages of her handbook, so we can get a closer look at the butterfly in print.

The trail takes us through thickly wooded parts of the park, interspersed with waterways and pretty wooden bridges. It is hard to imagine now that this used to be a massive dumping ground for all kinds of waste, until it was handed over to Joss Brooks and his team from Auroville-based Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants in 2006. They removed 60,000 tonnes of garbage and rubble, created waterbodies, and planted 90,000 seedlings of 172 indigenous species on 300 tonnes of fresh laterite soil, giving shape to the Adyar Poonga Eco-Park.

Today, the restoration is truly complete, as the 58-acre wetland is home to many endemic species of flora and fauna — including a wide range of butterflies.

We find a bush teeming with common jays catching the afternoon sun on their brilliant blue wings, as well as the occasional common banded awl. We also spot the lemon pansy, the common mormon and an African snail.

At a clearing, Bhanumathi looks for the grass jewel — the smallest butterfly in India. And in a thicket, we get lucky enough to spot a great eggfly, the common leopard, the crimson rose and even a pair of mating common jays!

As we cross the spillway and reach the other side of the park, a large waterbody comes into view, with birds perched on its island. As egrets, a red-wattled lapwing and an Indian spot-billed duck look on, a painted stork lands on the water.

We linger for a while at the weather station in front of the education centre, to take in the view.

It is almost evening and a gentle breeze blows in from the sea. We are at the fag end of the trail, but thanks to Vikas Madhav, a young naturalist from MNS, we spot more butterflies like the tricoloured flat, the idaea moth and a few bugs too!

On our way out, we see a common jay resting on a leaf, its bright blue wings still and motionless, ready and at peace to fade into the night — a poignant reminder of the circle of life.

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