For nature lovers, there is good news flying about these days: wildlife experts say that butterflies, seen most in the Capital during and after the rainy season, are increasing not just in numbers, but also in variety. Wildlife scientist Dr Faiyaz A Khudsar says, “There has been a definite increase in butterfly species in Delhi in the last few years.
Last year itself we saw an increase at the conservatories at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park and the Aravali Biodiversity Park. About 95 species are recorded at Aravali and about 70 species at the Yamuna Biodiversity park.”
Butterfly spotting is a complicated science and documenting it is a long and labourious process. The last recorded substantial study on Delhi’s butterflies was in 2002, when author and researcher Torben B Larsen reported 86 species in the Capital. Says Delhi-based lepidopterist Dr Surya Prakash, “We still mainly follow the British nomenclature, but we are aiming at coming with our own. We need more awareness measures like nature drills and conservation programmes to protect one of nature’s most beautiful creations.”
The last Delhi-based documentation of butterflies before 2002 was way back in 1970 — and even since 2002, there have been more sightings, though there is no official documentation as no report has been published since. “Of late, more attention is being given to butterfly research than it has got so far from government and media,” says Dr Prakash.
Butterflies are markers of environmental health. “Butterflies play a crucial role in pollination of a large portion of economically important crops and flowering plants, second only to the honeybee. The silk industry is also dependent on the butterfly. If the butterfly diversity declines, it will directly affect the country’s agriculture,” says Dr Prakash.
With its Ridge forests, green areas and biodiversity parks, Delhi serves as an active host to these coloured winged residents. While beauties like the Plain Tiger and the Yellow Orange Tip have always roamed our ridges, some new species of butterflies have been found in the capital, and Prakash’s report, with the new names, to be out soon is expected to be the next record after the 2002 Torben B Larsen report.
One of the new entries will be the Common Jay, very recently spotted. Others to make a debut on the list of Delhi’s butterflies post 2002 are the Rounded Pierrot, Common Banded Awl and the Common Blue Bottle, the last from the swallowtail family. In the 2002 list, new entries were the Red Pierrot, Crimson Tip, Indian Cabbage White, Tawny Coasters, Painted Lady, and Common Crow.
Also known as the ‘umbrella species’, butterflies are good bio-indicators and pointers of a healthy ecosystem and they protect the existence of other species too. With South, Western Ghats and North-East having the majority of butterfly species in India, Delhi isn’t much behind. Adds Prakash, “These areas have the maximum number of butterflies but poaching is also most prevalent in these areas.
Other than that, habitat degradation and use of banned insecticides, use of exotic species of plants, smuggling, lack of attention, use of synthetic manure is also destroying micro habitat.”
There are 17000 species of butterflies on the planet, and India is host to about 1600 species and in Delhi, with upcoming new published reports, the number will officially be more than 90.
Government bodies such as NDMC are also taking up the cause of protecting the species.
Says Jitender Kaushik, assistant director, Horticulture, NDMC, “In 2009, we took an initiative at Lodhi Garden to create a conservatory area just for butterflies.
During March-April and September-October, we see a good number.
We saw 22 species this year among which about 7 were new ones.” Says Field Biologist Dr. Aisha Sultana, “We have seen a good number of increase in some species like the Glassy Tiger, Danaid Eggfly, Common Mormon. The numbers of the existing ones are also increasing.”As Delhi continues to be home for butterflies, the future doesn’t seem to be devoid of flying colours.