A species of butterfly that is rare in the western Himalayas, the paintbrush swift butterfly has been photographed and documented for the first time in Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba district. The State supports around 430 butterfly species or about 25% of the total number of butterfly species found in India.
The paintbrush swift (Baoris farri), a butterfly species of the Hesperiidae family, was sighted and photographed in the second week of October this year during a field survey conducted under the Wild Bhattiyat Project initiated by the Bhattiyat Forest Range of the Dalhousie Forest Division of the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department in 2022.
“The species has never been photographed in Himachal Pradesh since its discovery in 1878. This is the first time that we have photographed and documented it. It was first described by lepidopterist Frederic Moore, more than 145 years ago, from the eastern Himalayas,” Sanjeev Kumar, Range Forest Officer at the Bhattiyat Forest Range, who is leading the project, told The Hindu.
Since the launch of the project, the department has so far documented 120 butterfly species. “We have recorded and documented various uncommon butterfly species like the anomalous nawab, blank swift, tailed jay, siren, etc., which are frequently sighted, but the paintbrush swift has been sighted and photographed for the first time in the lower hills of the Dhauladhar mountain range. We are hopeful of finding more rare butterfly species in the region in the coming days,” Mr. Kumar said.
He added that the paintbrush swift’s habitat distribution is common in northeast, central and south India, and rare in Uttarakhand.
Lovish Garlani, a butterfly expert and researcher associated with the Forest Department as a technical consultant, detailed the paintbrush swift butterfly’s characteristics. “The paintbrush swift is identified based on two separated spots in the upper forewing cell. Other closely related species like the blank swift have no cell spot while the figure-of-eight swift has two conjoined cell spots. The species’ larvae feed on bamboo and some other grass species. Till now, there is only one record of the paintbrush swift mentioned from the Shivalik mountain range in the State, but that record is doubtful as no photographic or specimen pieces of evidence were provided in the study. This is the first time the paintbrush swift has been spotted and photographed in Himachal Pradesh. It’s an encouraging indication of flourishing biodiversity, which is good for wildlife,” Mr. Garlani said.
Mr. Garlani pointed out that butterflies depend on wild host and nectar plants which made them particularly vulnerable to changes in their environment. “The butterflies of Himachal Pradesh are no exception, and in recent times, the number of butterflies has been declining. Habitat loss and scarcity of larval host plants are major causes of the decline in the butterfly population. An increase in pesticide use, deforestation, and climate change are some of the other causes of habitat loss of butterflies,” he said.
Mr. Garlani, who has published his research in national and international journals, stressed the urgent need for the conservation of butterflies. “The paintbrush swift’s sighting in Himachal Pradesh shows that the host plant is available in the hills, where the swift could survive. This calls for the immediate need for conservation efforts in the region, including the establishment of butterfly parks and conservation reserves in the State. Butterfly rearing or breeding centres should also be established. Focus should be given to the plantation of native host plant species and habitat improvement. Creating awareness on the importance of butterflies through community participation will also serve the purpose of conservation. Moreover, special focus should be given to high altitude butterfly species as they are facing major threats in habitat destruction, and their number has declined significantly in recent years,” he said.