I had prepared this video for a wildlife NGO that I was volunteering with for a short writing project. Since it was never published for some reason, I’m taking the liberty and adding it to the blog here.
It’s a tad bit lengthy, and more like an academic blog, so you can skip reading and check the video instead, following is really the transcript of the same. I am, however, hoping, someone out there might find it helpful in some way, so putting it out here 🙂
Little About Butterflies
Probably evolved from moths, butterflies are believed to have been around for several millions of years. With their exquisitely coloured wings, butterflies are insects in the order Lepidoptera. Butterflies are found worldwide in all types of environments, with the most butterfly species found in tropical rainforests.
Most butterflies feed on the nectar from the flowers, often brightly coloured and clustered. Some sip on the rotting fruits and a rare few prefer rotting animal flesh or body fluids. Apart from their striking colours, other features of butterflies are club-tipped antennae and their holding of wings vertically when at rest.
Suggested read: Flying Jewels of Garbhanga Forest
Metamorphosis – Unique Life Cycle
Butterflies go through a complete metamorphosis with four unique life stages, – egg, larva, pupa, and butterfly – each one is unique and equally interesting.
Beauty With Purpose
Butterflies are great fliers. Their spectacular and large wings, bodies and legs are covered with colourful, dust-like scales. They are an important part of Earth’s rich biodiversity. There are over 18000 known species of butterflies making them a highly diverse group. These winged beauties are also natural pest controllers and good pollinators.
For centuries, the beauty of these flying jewels has made its way into art, poetry, paintings, literature and more. Butterflies contribute to the ecosystem with their aesthetic, intrinsic, and educational value. Butterflies are indicators of the health of our ecosystem and environments.
Butterflies Of Guwahati
Out of the 1500 reported species of butterflies in India, almost half are from Assam and other Northeast states. The IUCN has identified the entire Northeast region as the ‘Swallowtail rich zone’.
Guwahati with its rich forest covers, suburbs, and even many urban spaces, hosts a great number of butterflies. Garbhanga Reserve Forest in Guwahati has a dense population of butterflies.
Suggested read: Meeting Commander Butterfly
Where To Go Butterfly Watching in Guwahati
A great number of species are spread across the city and its fringes. Some of the best places to observe these winged beauties are:
- Garbhanga Reserve Forest
- Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary
- IIT Guwahati campus
- Jalukbari – Around Guwahati University Campus
- Upperparts of Nilachal Hills
Some Interesting Facts About Butterflies
- Butterflies are the only other insects, after moths, that have scaly wings.
- The fastest butterflies can fly as much as 45 km per hour; slow fliers cover about 8 km/h.
- Butterflies are found on every continent except Antarctica.
- Butterflies have a great vision but a slightly weakened sense of smell.
- They are active during the day, as opposed to moths.
- Some defense mechanisms used by butterflies are camouflage, toxins, mimicry, and aposematism – where it cleverly advertises to its potential predators that it is not worth being eaten or attacked.
- Butterflies can only fly when their body temperature is above 30°C, so they bask in the sun to warm up, especially in cool weather.
- Their short lifespan does not allow much time to wander, however, some species migrate over long distances.
Tips For ‘Butterfly Watching’
It requires time and patience to watch the butterflies go about their lives. But it’s a worthy exercise if you truly appreciate these heavenly creatures. Here are some tips for the interested “butterfly watchers”:
- Look for the host plants around your area. A Group of plants with bright-coloured, clustered flowers are likely to be the spot where butterflies will land while searching for nectar.
- Look out for puddles, animal dung and mud patches – several butterflies might choose to go ‘puddling’ there. They can also be found around nearby streams or rivulets.
- The best time for butterfly watching is around the monsoon, before and after.
- Mornings to noon hours are best to observe the butterflies go about their day’s activities. They will be super active after soaking in the sunlight and you may need to get a pair of binoculars for the skittish ones.
- Early mornings are best to observe them closely, as the cool weather and dropped body temperatures will limit their swift movements. Avoid touching or getting too close so as to not scare them away.
- Wear dull-coloured clothes, in the shades of browns and greens that camouflage with the surroundings and do not intimidate the butterflies or other small creatures around.
- If you want to photograph, try and avoid using flash as it may hurt these tiny creatures. If you must use it, however, learn all about using it correctly before actually using it.
- Keep a small notebook and a pen handy. If you are new to butterfly watching, start with observing the major and obvious features like colours, visible patterns and so on. Over time, you will be able to catch the details.
- A lot of online forums, websites and apps are available these days that can help and encourage you to identify butterflies and learn more about them.
Build Your Own Butterfly Garden
With the number of pollinators declining rapidly, building even a tiny butterfly garden in your backyard, would be a meaningful step towards conservation. This would make a huge difference, especially in the urban spaces, keeping in mind the changes brought about by rapid urbanization to the natural environments.
Building a garden and hosting butterflies will take time, but we bet it will be rewarding. Here are some tips to help you build your butterfly garden:
- Start with observing and studying butterfly species in your area. Learn about the various host plants for those species.
- Start small with a little garden in your backyard or balcony. Make sure the spot you select gets good sunlight for at least 5-6 hours a day and isn’t too windy.
- Soil rich in organic matter will be best for the host plants. Butterflies are highly sensitive to pesticides, so be extra careful about that as well.
- Select the plants that can provide nectar to the butterflies as well as food to the caterpillars.