Updated: September 27, 2021 9:08:40 am
Short-lived, solitary and dwindling in concretised urban spaces, butterflies are far from the limelight in bustling Delhi. However, efforts are under way to carve out spaces for the winged insects in the city. September is being marked as the Big Butterfly Month-India, as a nationwide attempt to celebrate butterflies and conserve their habitats.
At the nursery and butterfly park at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, butterflies flit from leaf to leaf. “Butterflies have close relationships with plants. Once the female butterfly lays eggs on the leaves, it never sees the offspring. The plant is the surrogate mother,” said Sohail Madan of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), who led a ‘butterfly walk’ at the park Sunday morning as part of the Big Butterfly Month.
At the walk, a 30-minute long count of butterflies reveals the presence of 16 species in the nursery. A longer count for around three-four hours, might reveal around 30-40 species, Madan said. The common ones include the Plain and Striped Tiger butterflies, Lemon Pansy butterfly, Common Mormon butterfly, and the Red Pierrot butterfly. The nursery also houses a more uncommon Red Flash butterfly — brownish wings when closed, open to reveal a flash of red. Such counts are taking place across the country as part of the Big Butterfly Month.
On some plants, the leaves have several holes in them chewed up by caterpillars. Butterflies lay eggs on tender leaves and caterpillars that emerge eat the leaves before they build a coffin-like chrysalis for themselves and metamorphose into fully-grown butterflies.
Different species of butterflies depend on different ‘larval host’ plants, marking the deep relationship that butterflies have with plants, rather than flowers as is popularly construed. The Plain Tiger butterfly for instance, the most commonly found in Delhi, has milkweed or ‘aak’ as the host plant.
“The role of butterflies as specialist pollinators in the ecosystem is only a secondary one,” Madan said. Their primary role is to constitute food for other creatures in all their life stages, he explained. If butterflies disappear, food for other predators is disrupted.
“They have a specific purpose in every stage of their life cycle. As caterpillars, they are food for birds, wasps and spiders. As adults, their purpose is to procreate. While they lay hundreds of eggs, the survival of only two is necessary to maintain a stable population,” he added.
BNHS had launched a project a few years ago to develop a ‘butterfly corridor’ in Delhi by creating habitats for them. “Around 67 such discreet habitats have been created so far. These habitats connect forest patches in the city. The idea is to create a safe corridor for them to travel and increase their diversity, with no poison and no heavy pruning of trees and plants in these areas,” he said.
The more diversity of plants in an area, the more butterflies it is likely to attract. The BNHS is collaborating with citizens to create such gardens. It has been done in homes, schools, DDA parks, and in small gardens in collaboration with the local RWA.
“The BNHS provides some plants, while citizens might bring others. We also provide technical support and draw data from the habitats to study the population,” he said. For instance, which butterflies can cross a flyover? Host plants can be planted depending on such factors, he added.
Insects are closely associated with moisture and climate regimes of an area and researching them can provide information on the surrounding nature, Madan said.
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