LALBANDH BUTTERFLY PROJECT-COMPLETION OF A YEAR

LALBANDH BUTTERFLY PROJECT-COMPLETION OF A YEAR
It is exactly one year, few friends namely Prosit Mukherjee, Sudipto Mukherjee, Barsanjit Majumder, Atul Mehrotra and I (Shubhashis Mitra) got involved with Lalbandh Butterfly Project under the umbrella Eco-Zone project by Visva Bharati at Lalbandh rather accidentally. You can go through the related posts made in this website if interested, link(1)-http://muktodhara.org/?p=3408 and Link(2)-http://muktodhara.org/?p=4673
1(At the initiation stage, with Vice Chancellor Sri Sushanta Duttagupta, Butterfly specialist-Judhajit Dasgupta, and faculty members of Kala Bhavana and my friend Samiran Nandy of Visva Bharati)
2(Kala Bhavana starts their natural sculpture initiatives)3(Our butterfly zone, with loose fencing to ward of cows and goats)

To be honest, none of us, except perhaps Barsanjit, took serious interest in life sciences in our college days. But nature was naturally a matter of awe to all of us. Personally, I had no idea what a butterfly zone really meant. So it was actually a dreamy concept without much scientific knowledge to back the idea. All I possessed was a bit of photographic data of butterflies in and around Santiniketan, and I knew few pockets where butterfly population was much higher than normal and other pockets like the Santiniketan Ashrama Complex where butterfly population was dwindling fast. In course of time I ofcourse got hold of some valuable books to know about the butterfly life cycle in details namely (a) ‘Poschimbonger Projapoti, by Judhajit Dasgupta (Ananda Publishers) and (b) ‘Butterflies of Peninsular India’ by Krushnamegh Kunte (Universities Press), and the internet was always handy.4(The Angled Castor larva on Bichuti Lata)5(A sizzling grass flower)6(Grass Demon butterfly & unknown flower)7(Unknown but welcome guest)

Experimenting with living entities, that also in open area, is a challenging job. It is easy to entice a street dog with a loaf of bread, but butterflies need to be enticed with suitable nectar carrying flowers and the breeding plants. That process, in reality, is painfully slow. Rangans(Ioxra) were the first flowering plants to be planted, but in the typically ‘Moram’ (laterite) soil those plants hardly grew more that a feet in a whole year, and might take another 2-3 years to be in blooming condition. It seems the butterfly zone would take about at least 3 years to come into some sort of a shape. To be honest I still do not know how the things are going to shape up.8(Unknown grass- but seasonal, vanishes during summer)9(Particularly the Egg Fly Butterflies are terribly fond of palm fruits)10(The natural cosmos population in 6 months)

In any case, I understood fast that we need to go for wild bushy type flowering plants, rather than the usual garden plants, which can grow fast on difficult soil and sustain. I concentrated on some specific types of grass, Lantanas, quite a few types of unknown bushes and creepers collected from wild. The wild plants were easy to grow, and they appreciated just that little bit of unexpected human care and yes few butterflies started to take some interest in them! Among the nursery plants, the ‘Cosmos’ was a big wonder; we planted probably a dozen in winter, and by June this year a sizeable area has been colonized by the Cosmos with bright orange flowers blooming continuously and we have been able to induce quite a few butterflies of different kinds. I think finding the nectar carrying ‘Cosmos’ in wild, bewildered the butterflies too! It is also a big wonder that ‘Cosmos’ plants can rapidly multiply through their own seeds generated in a purely ‘Moram’ soil and it blooms in all seasons. Neither those colourful Cosmos plants required soil supplements or fertilizers. In any case chemical fertilizer is never used in the zone, and hence everything in the area is natural; every plant needs to strive hard to grow there with water sprayed thrice a week at the most even in scorching summer days as the human care.11(Lime Butterfly)12(Larva of Lime Butterfly)13(Un-identified Larva)14(Un-identified Pupa)

So, that’s how things are moving at Lalbandh Butterfly Project; the only assurance from our part is that the project will not be dumped at least for next 4-5 years provided Visva Bharati allows us to continue; whereas Visva Bharati so far have encouraged us without exactly being explicit. Along with a lot of others, we would like Lalbandh to be an eco-conservation zone in the long run and would like to see some protection given to the bird population in Lalbandh. So the Lalbandh Project in essence is a conservation effort; a small start has been made, with a hope for larger eco-conservation efforts to take shape in future.15(Tiger and Crow butterflies hooked to Hatisur plant-helitropium indicum)16(Blue tigers hooked to Atasi- Crotalaria species in search of pheromone)

The field experience of one year has been a mix of huge elation to sizeable worry. Butterfly population is a fluctuating story; it starts to dwindle in relatively severe cold conditions (say from the month of December), keeps on dwindling further, only to get a bit active in Spring then to get scorched again in Summer. In rains the population fluctuates; in a cloudy day Butterflies feel shy of adventures and only come out when the Sun is basking clear. The peak season is from August to November, October most probably being the best. So, in an open area at times I have found more than 100 butterflies; where as in difficult days it would be hard to locate even 10 butterflies in the zone. That is a big challenge with a open butterfly zone with no climate conditioning; but it is interesting experience and perhaps much more rewarding than netted butterfly parks as here we are working in natural conditions and hence the scientific inferences are much more real in Lalbandh Butterfly Zone as far as conservation is concerned. You may call this an open area butterfly conservation effort.17(Unknown but welcome guest)18(A Commander Butterfly-occasional visitor)19(The Common Pierro- a permanent resident by now)20(Yellow Pansy & cosmos)

The experience of last one year has been much. My photographic stock of data gets enriched each month. We have managed to locate quite a few butterfly host (breeding) plants in the wild like Bichuti Lata(Tragia involucrate), Isher Mul(Aristolochia indica) etc which have become instant hits with the respective butterfly species. I was amazed to find tiny larvae on the leaves and stems within a week of plantation! Nature, in reality, responds pretty fast- this is one realization I learnt in no uncertain terms. If our actions are conducive nature will respond fast, and the response will be equally fast if our actions are destructive. Nature, in effect is the fastest example of the action and reaction theory as proposed by Newton, well naturally as Nature in reality is a purely scientific entity balanced on cause and effect phenomenon. Coming back to the Isher Mul, the Isher Mul plants are finding it difficult to grow as the Rose butterfly larvae, with amazing apetitite, is currently (June 2015) eating up all its leaves preventing their growth. I shall come to this in details in a specific article on Isher Mul plant and Rose butterfly larvae- it is really an intriguing story-whether the plant outruns the larvae or the larvae outrun the plant! Naturally we shall have to search for more Isher Mul plants in the wild, there are about 7 tiny ones of them in our zone now, and even then it is a food shortage scenario for the Rose Butterfly larvae in our zone! The problem is that the plant is not very easy to locate; one can only locate them by searching in probable zones! So, we have got a tricky story at hand now.21(Unknown but an interesting guest with small wings!)22(Lantana flower and the Mottled Emigrant)23(Some unknown yet natural flowers in our zone)24(The Common Rose Larva and the luckless Isher Mul- Aristolochia indica plant, very soon the whole plant will be eaten up by this innocuous looking caterpillar!)

Many butterflies visited our zone in last one year, in different conditions, at times just out of curiosity, at times being specifically induced. Along with butterflies many unknown creatures have also visited us, we expect the number to grow in coming months, as by now we have acquired a bit of idea about butterflies- their breeding plants and preferences. There is huge scope for more experimentation. A major problem for us is that not all plants like to be shifted for replantation. Of all things a very common plant ‘Akanda’, considered a weed which is difficult to clear if not uprooted from deep, is one such plant which terribly dislikes a shift. I never imagined that it would be real hard to plant ‘Akandas’ in our zone- only about 3 survives among almost 20 we planted! Incredibly, compared to this, we have a Cosmos colony with nearly 100+ plants multiplying from about a dozen in just 6 months on the difficult soil of Lalbandh! Like ‘Akanda’, Bichuti Lata is also a fairly choosy plant, it is neither easy to lift them from the wild and not so easy to replant them elsewhere. Till the experience with Bichuti Lata was a little bit better than Akanda!25(Tridax variety of grass?, a sure plant to attract wide variety of butterflies)26(The grass intricacies)27(The Pale Glass Blue butterfly on a kind of grass we collected very recently, now in the process of creating a small patch of such grass)

So, Nature can be tricky, and hence interesting. For a long time, I harboured an idea to create a grass land with variety of grass, mostly flowering grass. The task is proving to be quite hard as well. Different type of grass (generally speaking- though scientifically not all of them belong to grass family) have different properties, some do not like to get lifted and shifted, some are so aggressive that it overpowers all other variety of grass in no time, some are soft-growers for a while only to vanish at the slightest hint of hard times, some remain alive throughout the year, some are purely seasonal. In effect, the grass patch, especially under my supervision, could expand to only about 100 square feet (5×20) in one whole year! This year we would be faster I reckon, because by now I have identified few grass flowers which butterflies prefer and few others which are liked by other kind of insects. Growing different varieties of grass can be a real difficult task at hand; but to locate unique kind of grass in the wild is a pure joy which I am enjoying tremendously.28(The Common Four Ring)29(Un-identified larva of a moth)30(Now who is this gentleman?)31(Mere 10 inches from me, the guy appeared quite frightening!)

This article is naturally replete with photographs all taken within the Butterfly Zone at Lalbandh in last 12 months. I would gradually try to publish specific articles, with incorporation of fair amount of Science, to document the whole effort in a more systematic way. In the mean time I am enjoying all my holiday mornings at the Butterfly zone, with Dinu the caretaker gardener as my steadfast companion. Our future projection is, time-health-energy permitting, in next 3-4 years we may take up such a butterfly conservation project within the Ballavpur Reserve Forest area (it is actually among the listed activities of reserve forests) probably with bit more funding and manpower. Lets see.32(My regular companion Dinu- lifting a Caparis Plant from Kopai area)33(Plain Tiger Larva)34(Plain Tiger Pupa)35(Common Crow Larva)

The photographic compilation is being added week by week on Sundays and other holiday mornings when Dinu and myself go for some dedicated toil with the soil. Gradually new experiences are getting incorporated. Experimenting with live objects is delightful, yet slow with fair amount of pangs and uncertainty and hence interesting. We hope to break new grounds with new species of plants and butterflies as days pass by.
Sharing just a few other photographs, which I liked along with one of the Evening Brown & Common Baron butterflies enjoying ripe Bel fruit:-36373839Thanks,Shubhashis

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2 Comments

  1. abhiban1093 says:

    Sukul, have you tried with Silk-worm plant (Toot)?

    Not so far, the basic reason being silk worm butterflies are not available in the open, but I have a plan to collect live silk worm pupa and the plants from sericulture unit at Bolpur. Lets see.
    Sukul

  2. Shubhashis Mitra says:

    Smita Roychowdhury Prasad
    Great

    Ravi Dwivedi
    terrible…congrats to you personally Sukul !!!

    Simontika Deb
    “Aj sristi sukher ullashe….”

    Banabithi Saha
    Amader chhele belar anek prio guti poka.guti pokader Rani.(amar mone hoto,hoy. Prakitipath class ar srodhyo Barida-r abodan)

    Subrato Sen Mojumdar
    Akanda gacher Guti ti Dekhte sundar. Chelebelay Guti poshate ki Ustashi chilo!

    Samik Ghosh
    Durdanto!

    Chandra Moitra
    Great job,love to see the place.

    Shubhashis Mitra
    to Chandra Moitra:- Yes, if you come around October, you can perhaps dance a bit with the butterflies; at that time there would be 100+ butterflies in the zone, along with quite a few couples. Sometimes I wonder, whether in Odissi (the dance form you prefer, I reckon) animal or insect movements are reflected, Bharatnatyam does a few of them like the Mayur and Deer movements, along with a few birds may be(well, as far as I know). What about Odissi? Just inquisitive.

    Chandra Moitra
    Hahaha Sukulda,OK done .hope to visit the place along with some dance steps but only in December.

    Shubhashis Mitra
    to Chandra Moitra:- Welcome. But I am a bit seriously interested in whether Odissi incorporates animal/bird movements, actually in my student days I was quite fond of watching dance programs in Kolkata, in Gyan Mancha or Rabindra Sadan all alone, as no one else was too much interested. Once I watched Odissi by Sutapa Bhattacharya say in 1979-80, I hope I recall her name properly, she was magnificent…I really had some idea about Odissi then, as we saw only Manipuri and may be a bit of incorporated Bharatnatyam in Santiniketan…but I can not recall any animal movement though as depicted by Sutapa Bhattachraya…may be I missed. Thats why I wanted to know, genuinely curious.

    Chandra Moitra
    Actually steps r so beautiful that it can easily show few butterfly movements but separately it doesn’t have I feel.

    Shubhashis Mitra
    to Chandra Moitra I know Odissi emanated from temple sculptures of Dancers to the God, that’s why the dance has so many poises – kind of lovely pauses in the dancing form- as I understand from a very basic general view point, but now all classical Indian dance forms have become fairly explorative with inter-dance-form collaborations. It might be interesting to explore animal forms of dance; though human beings are naturally the best dancers among all animals/birds, but some of the animal and birds do have very interesting signature styles. Anyway, I think I am too much a lay person to talk about this to you.

    Tripty Roy
    Lovely

    Sap Sapanto
    Butterfly r o better fly koruk.

    Sanghamitra Ray
    eta khub bhalo ekta udyog.

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