140 species of butterflies recorded at Matheran, almost twice as many after 125 years: Study

By, Mumbai
Aug 09, 2020 11:57 PM IST

Researchers have identified 140 species of butterflies from Matheran, over 80km from Mumbai, during an eight-year-long study.

Double branded crow has been spotted only once in Matheran.(Mandar Sawant an Sagar Sarang)
Double branded crow has been spotted only once in Matheran.(Mandar Sawant an Sagar Sarang)

This is the first dedicated checklist of butterflies after 125 years, at the only pedestrian hill station in Asia that documented twice as many species. The last checklist was by British researcher JA Betham who documented 78 butterfly species in 1894-95.

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The latest findings were published in a research paper - Finding the Forgotten Gems - in the Biodiversity Data Journal published from Bulgaria, on Saturday. The study was carried out by Mandar Sawant and Nikhil Modak from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) along with Sagar Sarang from Somaiya College, Vidyavihar.

With 140 species belonging to six families, the current list includes 15 species protected under various schedules of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, including crimson rose, orchid tit, and Daniad eggfly listed under schedule I (protection akin to a tiger or leopard). Additionally, 16 locally very rare species, 11 rare, 20 uncommon, 49 common and 44 very common species were identified. The top 10 very rare species include - orange-tailed awlet, orange awlet, Tamil spotted flat, plain banded awl, common sergeant, rustic, double branded crow, orchid tit, plain puffin, and large oakblue. Among these, the double branded crow was identified for the first time and there has only been a single sighting so far in March 2019.

Matheran covers an area of 214.73sqkm and has a buffer area (eco-sensitive zone) ranging from 0 to 200m. Its resident population is 4,393, according to the 2011 census.

Carried out between 2011 and 2019, the researchers studied butterfly distribution across 7sqkm of Matheran covering forest areas, hill slopes, mud patches and other habitats. “Rising tourism at this hill station threatens the local biodiversity and has already led to habitat fragmentation,” said Sawant adding, “Concretisation in the form of paving of roads, building resorts and other development associated with tourism combined with littering of waste such as plastic and alcohol bottles by tourists is a concern.”

Sawant added that it had begun affecting mud-puddling, a behaviour associated with insects that suck nutrients from wet or moist soil as well as natural organic matter including rotting plant or animal carcasses. “Littering is leading to water pollution and during the months of January to March, the polluted water is making the soil hard altering the puddling behaviour,” he said.

Meanwhile, the study broke down findings into seasonal patterns for butterfly species composition and their activities. A novel coloured barcode system representing data, seasons and activities along with photographs was developed. “Anyone intending on visiting Matheran during any season will be able to identify species they spot using this checklist,” said Sawant.

Eminent conservationist and chairman, iNature Foundation Isaac Kehimkar lauded efforts by the researchers. “By saving their pocket money and surviving on snacks, these youngsters have brought out an elaborate checklist and getting it published. Their efforts are inspiring and stand testimony of dedication over eight years. These studies highlight the need to preserve such eco-sensitive areas while ensuring sustainable tourism with local people involved,” he said.

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    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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