LEARNING ABOUT BUTTERFLIES-PART 1

LEARNING ABOUT BUTTERFLIES-PART 1

1The Butterfly Park at Lalbandh:- The concept is such that the project should actually be termed ‘Conservation of Butterflies at Lalbandh’. Normally, a Butterfly Park means a netted enclosure with great number of butterflies, including rare species, which are nurtured there. Here at Lalbandh we are trying to conserve the plants which can sustain atleast the local Butterfly population. The real problem is, the host butterfly plants, most of which are wild in nature and considered to be a nuisance by civilized human society, is getting decimated in and around Santiniketan at an alarming rate as new settlements are growing at a rapid pace centered around Santiniketan. The whole of Santiniketan Sriniketan area, area upto Kopai and just beyond in North, beyond Sriniketan in West, beyond the railway tracks in East in form of Makrampur and part of Prantik Township and ofcourse with Bolpur at the South, the countryside is receding fast; and so are the butterflies. The problem in modern day gardens in most houses is that firstly insecticides are being used and secondly due to proliferation of nursery plants many of which are actually alien to native Birbhum is remaining alien to the local butterfly population as well. On backdrop of this scenario, an effort has been initiated at the eco-sensitive Lalbandh area by exactly 5 ex-students with the active and sympathetic help of administration of Visva Bharati to create an atmosphere where at least the local butterflies can find a safe & permanent home.
2Learning about Butterflies:- The project can be an interesting area to observe butterflies. Due to the late rains this year the butterfly conservation project got into steam from mid July. At the end of September, that is exactly one and half month later, some specific information about a select group of butterflies is already available to us.
3The plant ‘Hati Sur’( Heliotropium indicum), the flowers of which looks like an inverted trunk of an elephant; is actually a big hit with the Tiger and the Crow group of butterflies. In fact just when we had brought these plants in, a Crow butterfly jumped down on the open roots of the Hatisur plant just from nowhere; such is the attractive power of Helitoprium indicum. After plantation of around 6 – 8 such low height plants, till date, every day 4-8 butterflies always are simply stuck to these plants. Like the proverbial Bengali saying ‘Mora Hati Lakh Taka’ – even the dead Hatisur plants are a delicacy to these select butterflies. According to Sri Judhajit Dasgupta in his book ‘Poshchimbonger Projapati’ (ISBN 81-7756-558-3, Ananda Publishers) these butterflies probably collect some chemical from the ‘Hatisur’ plants, which in turn is used to formulate the scent which in turn is used to entice the opposite sex! Well, an intriguing story indeed.
456Akanda is one of the most prolific host plants of the Tiger group of butterflies The Lalbandh area is replete with Akanda plants. The snaps above is of the larvae and pupa of the plain tiger butterfly from the Lalbandh area only. Generally the chemicals from Akanda plant, the leaves of which are consumed by the larvae of the Tiger butterfly make this group of butterflies taste awful to the birds. A kind of defense mechanism against the predators is initiated within the body of the butterfly itself by absorbing such strong chemicals from Akanda plant. Thus Tiger group of butterflies, and their larvae and pupas are not very much liked by the bird community as food items. Probably this affinity with strange and strong chemicals make the tiger group of butterflies kind of glued to strange/strong chemicals from other plants as well. I have seen tiger group of butterflies to relish several kind of dead and decaying plants; they even relish a bit of wet iron rust.
78As per our observation at Lalbandh Butterfly Conservation Zone, the plant Hatisur or Heliotropium indicum is a sure shot to attract the Tiger and Crow group of butterflies. If a few Akanda plants are available nearby, the Tiger Group of butterflies can effectively be domiciled in an area, aided with some Hatisur plants. The Hatisur plants usually grow around open drains; so they will naturally not be available in municipal areas with covered drainage system. The plants, though not rare, is neither abundant; one will need to search for them in open wet areas- or better around the open drainage in village side. I will strongly recommend the plant Hatisur (Heliotropium indicum) to anyone interested in conserving butterflies, the Tiger group to be more specific. This observation is purely based on practical experience while working at Lalbandh area. There are a few more interesting side observations too which will be shared later. I am waiting for a few more such concrete results as this experiment with Hatisur plant.
9Thank You. Shubhashis

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