Flying Jewels of the Western Ghats
Coffee forests provide the ideal habitat for a wide variety of rare and endemic butterfly and moth species. These evergreen forests with tall canopy trees provide filtered sunlight that is beneficial to butterflies. Different species of butterflies and moths require different host species of plants for laying eggs and carrying out their respective life cycle. Coffee forests accommodate a wide variety of herbs and shrubs which act as ideal hosts for the caterpillars to feed on. Other wild species of grasses and plants which form the undergrowth act as larval host plants. The valleys with small waterfalls and rivulets provide diverse micro-habitats for the proliferation of butterflies.
On the meadow green,
A flight of butterflies was snoozing,
With bated breath and studied gaze...I stood watching.
When Lo... All at once they flew up
A curtain of iridescent glow
Stunning my senses with utter delight.
We have observed butterflies inside coffee forests belonging to all the five families that are present in India.
Family Papilionidae: Swallowtails
Family Pieridae: Whites and Yellows
Family Nymphalidae: Brush footed butterflies
Family Lycaenidae: Blues
Family Hespiriidae: Skippers
Table -1. Diversity of Butterflies in India. ( Krushnamegh Kunte, 2000.)
|Papilionidae||Swallowtails||13 genera ; 107 species|
|Pieridae||Whites and Yellows||20 genera; 109 species|
|Nymphalidae||Brush footed butterflies||98 genera; 521 species|
|Lycaenidae||Blues||90 genera; 443 species|
|Hesperiidae||Skippers||99 genera; 321 species|
|TOTAL||320 GENERA, 1501 SPECIES
Our observations spanning two decades has clearly brought out the fact that these delicate creatures are in fact highly specialized and each species has a range and unique flight pattern. Caterpillars belonging to different species feed on a diversity of plant species. Some species specialize on eating the mature and old leaves belonging to old robusta's, others feed on young Arabica leaves and a few others on the leaves of the multistoried crops like arecanut, pepper, cardamom, citrus and other trees.
Butterflies and moths are some of the most fascinating and eye catching flying insects in the world. A vast majority is brightly colored and is found all over the world, except in the Antarctica region. They are indeed one of the planet's most beautiful creatures. People from all walks of life, irrespective of race, color or religion enjoy these beautiful winged flying jewels for their delicate beauty. In India, most butterfly species are found associated with tropical rainforests.
The Western Ghats is home to hundreds of species of rare, endemic and exotic species of colorful butterflies; some of them extremely rare .Some species are so rare that they are found nowhere else in the world. The region boasts of approximately 350 species of butterflies. They come in a variety of sizes with two pairs of large wings. The color pattern varies from species to species and has a definite role to play in the protection of the species. If one were to closely observe the wings, they are covered with overlapping rows of tiny scales.
The word butterfly has curious origins. Butterflies get their name from the yellow brimstone butterfly of Europe that is first seen in the early spring or "butter" season? The Anglo- Saxons used the word BUTTERFLOEGE because their most common butterfly was the yellow brimstone butterfly. The spread of the English colonies and their subsequent influence on the natives carried forward in the butterfly tradition. In many languages butterfly means "licker of milk".
The Russians call them BABOCHKA, meaning little soul. Ancient civilizations have depicted butterflies as little angels or souls, such that when people die, their souls go to heaven as butterflies. The importance of butterflies in many early civilizations is recorded in prehistoric caves and their depiction in pottery and fresco paintings. The best known example is the representation of the goddess Xochiquetzal in the form of a two tailed swallow tailed butterfly. In all irrespective of age, people from all walks of life associate butterflies as friendly and soothing to the eyes, mind body and soul.
Biologists estimate that worldwide there are about 150,000 different species of butterflies and moths, in which approximately 30,000 belong to the butterfly species. The size of a few species of butterflies range from less than an inch in size to a wing span of about 10 inches. The smallest species are no bigger than a fingernail and the largest swallowtails are larger than the smallest birds.
The world's tiniest known species, the blue pygmy (Brephidium exilis), is found in Southern California and has a wing span of just over half an inch. Both the world's smallest butterflies occur in peninsular India. The largest species, the New Guineas Queen Alexandria's birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) can measure up to twelve inches from wingtip to wingtip. The Goliath Birdwing butterfly is the second-largest butterfly in the world.
Published: December 2008, Last Modified: September 2011