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Rare butterfly flutters after 95 years

A butterfly that has eluded scientists for almost a century has been rediscovered in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh.
By Rahul Karmakar/HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, Guwahati
UPDATED ON JUN 29, 2010 12:00 AM IST

A butterfly that has eluded scientists for almost a century has been rediscovered in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh.

The butterfly species – Bhagadatta – had fluttered into oblivion soon after lepidopterists from Bombay Natural History Society discovered it in 1915 from Rottung village near the Abor Hills in East Siang district.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature subsequently put the critically endangered tag on this species, belonging to Limenitis, a genus of brush-footed butterflies commonly called the Admirals.

Forest zoologists at the Itanagar-based State Forest Research Institute (SFRI) did not expect to spot Bhagadatta – named after Pragjyotishpura's (ancient Assam) mythological king who sided with the Kauravas in the Mahabharata war – when they undertook a project last year.

The project, funded by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, was titled 'Study on butterfly diversity in Dihang-Dibang Biosphere Reserve'.

The area of this reserve straddles five districts in western and central Arunachal Pradesh.

"Out of 452 specimens in the reserve, we collected 153 specimens of butterflies belonging to 90 genera and nine families," said SFRI zoologist Asham Borang from Itanagar. He handled the project along with colleague Bharat Bhushan Bhatt.

"While scouting in the Molo area, we spotted a colourful butterfly with brownish hue hiding under the leaf of a plant. To our amazement, we found it be the same Bhagadatta (Austenia purpurascens) that was spotted 95 years ago. Further study confirmed our hunch," Borang said.

Arunachal Pradesh is a vital segment of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, the world's most fragile. Bhagadatta is expected to improve the faunal profile of the state, which has since 2002 seen many new animal species being discovered.

Among these are the Arunachal macaque (a large brown primate with relatively short tail), the small leaf deer, Bugun liocichla (a multi-coloured bird) and a pit viper with suicidal tendencies locally named Barta.

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