Hear the flutter of wings

What started as a four member group sharing a common passion has grown into the 500-strong Bengaluru Butterfly Club

Updated - November 29, 2019 04:54 pm IST

Published - November 29, 2019 04:53 pm IST

Did you know that Sahyadri Birdwing is the Karnataka State Butterfly? Or that both the largest and the smallest butterfly is found in Bengaluru? And despite the pollution and rapid urbanisation the Garden City’s butterfly count is on a steady increase?

Thanks to efforts from the Bengaluru Butterfly Club (BBC), Karnataka Forest Department and the Indian Foundation for Butterflies (of the National Centre for Biological Sciences - NCBS), the awareness, conservation and detailed documentation of butterflies has helped to have on record more than 170 species found in Bengaluru alone.

There are annual butterfly fests and fortnightly walks conducted by the Bengaluru Butterfly Club in association with the forest department too. The BBC, as the club is more referred to, was flagged off in 2012 with four founding members Rohit Girotra, Ashok Sengupta, Haneesh KM and Nitin Ravikanthachari drawn from various professional fields. The club today boasts of nearly 500 members actively involved in nature walks, observations, and recording data for a common cause.

“It was in 2012 that a rare species of butterfly, Lilac Silverline, was rediscovered. We were all excited as we thought it was extinct. The species is said to have disappeared more than 120 years ago, but Nitin as a Bsc. student had spotted it during a casual habitat-study visit at Hessaraghatta lake and the rest seems history,” said Ashok Sengupta adding that over the last eight years that the club was formed, nearly 15 new species have been added to the city butterfly list. .

The BBC can be credited for not only rediscovering many species but also creating stronger awareness about a multitude of butterflies in the city and State. “Although we four were regularly in touch to trade information relating to butterflies for a few years, we never dreamt of forming a club. It was when we met scientist Dr. Krushnamegh Kunte of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) who had moved to Bengaluru from Boston, that the idea of a club gradually took shape,” says Ashok.

“Prof. Krushnamegh said having Citizen Science in the Butterfly domain will help in understanding of butterflies in India. He passionately detailed the importance of quantitative information along with field photographing butterflies that all of us could contribute to for increasing data,” he says.

But over the years we saw an extended role towards bringing awareness about butterflies and so the club turned out a stronger platform to educate and inform citizens about the importance of these beautiful insects. “We put forth the necessity for collecting quantitative information. Gradually we started having field walks to educate members and new comers about butterflies, collect information and collaborate and participate with the forest department in conducting surveys, workshops, tree planting and other conservation related activities,” says Ashok.

BBC has been having fortnightly (Sunday) walks at Doresanipalya Research Station Campus, Bangalore University, Hennur Forest and Hessarghatta Lake. Some of the other butterfly spots in the city include Camp Gee Dee (in Shivanahalli), Valley School grounds (on Kanakapura road), and Savandurga.

“It took us a few years to get a grasp of things. All the activities and notes needed a cohesive e-platform for exchanging information on butterflies. So we started the BBC Facebook group, and the BBC WhatsApp group,” adds Ashok.

Most of the members upload pictures and data in Dr. Krushnamegh’s (Associate professor, NCBS) butterfly database (ifoundbutterflies.org). “The collaboration is exhaustive with species-data. We have 70,000 observations with reference images from across the country, perhaps the largest of its kind in any developing country,” says Krushnamegh. This will help forest officers, policy makers, environmentalists and scientists look into rare and endangered species for conservation efforts, he says.

All the efforts of the BBC also found a collaborator in Sanjay Mohan, an Indian Forest Service officer, now a PCCF, who was posted as head of forest research until a few years ago. “With his help, exotic species such as eucalyptus and acacia were gradually cut down and replaced with host plants that attract butterflies at Doresanipalya Forest at JP Nagar. Butterflies multiplied noticeably and even had the state forest department in 2017 notice and declare the Sahyadri Birdwing — a largest butterfly with a wingspan of 190mm with a yellow and red pattern (similar to Karnataka’s flag) — as the State butterfly,” says Krushnamegh. “Bengaluru also hosts the smallest one, Grass Jewel, a greyish-blue which is less than 1cm,” he adds. “We have been wanting the Doresanipalya Forest declared as a butterfly reserve. It is a model for other parks to take shape,” says Krushnamegh.

While India has 1400 species of butterflies in spite of having many highly polluted metropolis, we are better off than England supposedly with a record of only 60-plus species,” says Prof Krishnamegh.

Butterfly haven

* The Bengaluru Butterfly Club Club’s next Butterfly Walk (no charges involved) is on November 30 at Doresanipalya Forest, JP Nagar. It is for free. (ashokjbp@gmail.com / 7000794757)

* Bengaluru’s urban ecosystem consists of dry grasslands and scrub forests, especially in its outskirts. Some amongst the 170 species recorded here breed throughout and some only in favourable seasons, especially post-monsoon.

* Bengaluru also lies in the route of migratory butterflies who move from Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats

* Apart from the Bannerghatta National Park that sports an exclusive Butterfly Park, the city has butterfly havens in Doresanipalya Forest Campus, IISc. Campus, Hennur Park, Yelahanka park, Lalbagh, Cubbon Park, Camp Gee Dee, Hesaraghatta Lake, BAngalore University Campus, Valley School Ground, Savandurga and Devarayanadurga.

* As aromatic plants do not attract butterflies, the Bengaluru Butterfly Club advises people to grow basic nectar plants as Ixora, Cuphea, Alder, Zinnia, native Marigold, Sunflower, Lantana, Petunia, Hibiscus and the Plumbago varieties.

Curiosity to passion

Ashok Sengupta, who teaches Computer Science at Kendriya Vidyalaya in Jalahalli, came to settle down in Bengaluru from Jabalpur in 2007. Feeling lonely he wanted to enjoy nature and do “something useful.” What started as a curious observation of a colourful variety of butterflies at his Jalahalli campus soon turned into passion. He started reading books on the winged beauties. “I became a member of the butterfly yahoo groups. Soon Rohit Girotra and me started taking butterfly walks together on Kanakapura Road, and after we started the BBC, Rohit devised nature walks. The Karnataka Forest Department collaborated with us for workshops and festivals too’,” says Ashok who also has also spotted 50 rare species in his campus. As part of the Early Stages of a Butterfly study, BBC has life cycles of Anamolous Nawab, Plains Blue Royal, Double Branded Crow, Spotted Angle and Red Spot to name a few that are documented with photos, he says.

On the go with record

“I wanted to do what I enjoy most, so I am with my camera and butterflies,” says senior nature photographer Nagraj Veeraswami, a member of BBC since 2013, who is a commerce graduate. Nagraj is so passionate that amongst the 135 species that he has recorded at the Doresanipalya Forest with photos some include White-tip line Nawab and Baron from its pupa stage. “I have been intrinsically linked to nature photography and have supplied images to Karnataka Tourism and Ad agencies,” says Nagraj who led the recently held Butterfly Fest from BBC and showcased his rare clicks. In the three-hour Butterfly Walk one can see around 40-50 species at any location. “All you need is a pen and notebook to take notes, and a camera if you are interested in photography,” says Nagraj who has been part of nearly 250 walks conducted by BBC for the last seven years.

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