Everybody loves to chase butterflies. With mesmerising colours and patterns on their wings, when even one flits about near us, we experience joy. India is home to the most number of diverse species (1,400-plus and rising), says Vijay Barve, Biodiversty Informatics Researcher, Florida Museum of Natural History and an active member of biodiversity portals. To have one identified as a national icon, like we have our national animal, flower and bird, is the best celebration of butterflies, he says.
Considering the ecological importance, conservation significance and growing popularity of butterflies among people in the recent years, it was time we initiated the selection driven by citizens, adds Krushnamegh Kunte, Associate Professor, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.
Several other butterfly enthusiasts, experts, researchers and scientists like them shared the thought and came together during lockdown to start the process of choosing the country’s national butterfly.
The last three weeks were spent in hours of online discussion before 50 of them from across the country collated a list of three recommendations each. Since it was going to be a symbolic representative of the country’s natural abundance, the list was next shortened to 50, based on several criteria such as the species being neither rare nor too common and be fairly distributed across the landscape.
The butterfly should not have multiple forms but be easily identified, observed and remembered by the public due to some inherently attractive aspect such as its name, colours or charisma. “Once chosen, these characteristics would help to define the cultural, ecological and conservation significance for the country and even attract tourism in later years,” says Amol Patwardhan, Mumbai-based Zoology professor.
In the next round, an internal polling was done by a core group of experts to draw up a list of seven finalists. The seven species that made it are the Krishna Peacock, Common Jezebel, Orange Oakleaf, Fivebar Sword Tail, Common Nawab, Yellow Gorgon and Northern Jungle Queen.
Butterflies are ambassadors of Nature conservation and important biological indicators that reflect the health of our environment, says Sharan Venkatesh, founder of Rhopalocera and Odonata Association of Rajapalayam, Tamil Nadu. It is important to have a national butterfly as it will help generate awareness about Nature and how these beautiful insects warn us about changes in the environment [like pollution and global warming,” he says.
The panel is expecting more than a lakh people, if not more, to state their first choice in the online poll that was thrown open on Friday. By evening, more than 5,000 people had already cast their votes. Those willing to participate need to click on the link:
It will guide them to a Google form to be filled. Some basic details and photographs of the seven butterflies are provided for people to make their choice. The polling will end on October 7 coinciding with the culmination of Wildlife Week.
With this national campaign, butterflies will hopefully get the place of importance they deserve, says Kunte. “They are not just attractive to watch but are crucial indicators of a healthy ecosystem.” A national butterfly will represent all that a country wants to be identified with, adds Amol.
By mid-October, the proposal with the top three ranking butterfly species from public polling will be submitted to the Ministry of Environment & Forests. It has already been apprised of the matter verbally and after the necessary protocols, the name is likely to be announced by early 2021. “We are hoping in the new year, we will have a national butterfly,” says Barve.