After a spell of unseasonal rain during the winter, the skies opened up and we had clear and beautiful weather for a few days. All of a sudden, I started seeing butterflies everywhere. These beautiful winged insects were all absent from the habitat before the arrival of the rains – probably hibernating or had migrated away. But the advent of the favourable season sprung new life into these insects, and they showed it by gleefully fluttering around in the mild, winter sun all day. Here are few of the species that I encountered during this short-lived favourable season.
Some butterflies, such as the Common Crow ( Euploea core), were present in great numbers in the open areas. Since the Common Crow is a poisonous butterfly, storing poisons it has acquired from its host plant during the caterpillar stage in its body, it had very few things to worry about. Others, such as the Chocolate Pansy ( Junonia iphita), were also seen in healthy numbers, despite not being poisonous. ‘Advantage in numbers’ is a rule of nature well-followed by such species. You would definitely agree that this was a season of plenty when you saw many Chocolate Pansies flocking on certain flowering plants, which were also invigorated by the rains. This short-lived season of plenty even fooled some of the butterflies into believing that they could mate and breed. Seen here is a male Chocolate Pansy (in flight) trying to court with a female perched on a bunch of flowers. A male of the Indigo Flash ( Rapala varuna) advertised its scent pouch (the small swelling seen on its hindwing). But without the presence of a female, he was unable to proceed further with any courting rituals, if he had them in his mind. But many other butterflies bore tell-tale signs that this was definitely not the time to breed. Some butterflies, such as this Common Cerulean ( Jamides celeno), wear a different colour during dry season, becoming less bright and the markings on the wings becoming more obscure. The form is aptly dubbed as the ‘dry season form’ (or simply DSF in short). In some species of butterflies, while the colours do not change much between the wet season and the dry season forms, the shape of their wings change. The margins of the wings of the Lemon Pansy ( Junonia lemonias) become more angular and jagged, as is evident in this photo. Unfortunately, the change in the margins was not evident in all individuals. In the adult phase, butterflies are short-lived creatures, surviving only to find partners and reproduce, and die after this life purpose is fulfilled. As they grow old, the wings begin to weather. It is a marvel that such butterflies can fly at all! While the requirement of food, in the form of nectar, was being fulfilled graciously by the flowers, the other requirement of the butterflies, heat from the sun, was in short supply. All the butterflies spent copious amounts of time basking in the weak sunlight, as you can see this tiny Lesser Grass Blue ( Zizina otis) doing. Although it was somewhat easy to spot the Lesser Grass Blue when its wings were open, because of the shimmering blue on the upper side of the wings, the tiny butterfly (with a wingspan of approximately 25 mm) blended in with the ground vegetation once it closed its wings. Other butterflies, such as the Dark Palm-dart ( Telicota bambusae) were more easy to spot because of their bright colours. Even when it closed its wings, it would be difficult to miss the Dark Palm-dart as the orange colour on the under side of the wings would easily stand out. Some butterflies were easy to spot and recognise because of their striking colours and patterns. The Painted Lady ( Vanessa cardui) grabbed everyone’s attention when it arrived. These are the characters which typically define a butterfly for us. On the other end of the scale, there are several butterflies which pose a tough taxonomic challenge to the butterfly-watchers. Several members of the family Hesperiidae (commonly referred to as skippers) feature in this category. While an examination of markings on the upper side of wings indicated that this butterfly could be a Small Branded Swift ( Pelopidas mathias), nothing can be conclusively said without an examination of the brands (pheromone-containing scales present on male butterflies) of a male of the species. On the extreme end of these confusing groups of butterflies are probably the Parnara swifts. Three species belonging to this genus are known to occur in India. But without studying the genitalia of the males, there is no way to establish the species. May be sometimes it is best to forget about the names of the butterflies, and enjoy watching butterflies just for their beauty, like I do sometimes.
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge