Butterflies have hidden lives, and they don’t give up their secretly-held mysteries easily. Observe your surroundings, urban wildlife is full of unknown wonders at every step. You’ll have gazed, I assure you!!
In a town where I live, there are hardly any trees and parks in my society. But for there will always be a space where beauty will reside amidst the chaos. In these lockdown times, I started my day with hopping towards my terrace garden and waiting for the first bright shine of the sun. To see butterflies fluttering flights, you don’t have to wake up early with the birds. They are cold-blooded animals which means they cannot generate their own heat and need sunlight to warm their body. You’ll get to watch them basking late in the morning.
Let’s take a deep dive into the mysteries of fluttering beauties.
Ever had the desire to smell wet soil or fresh dung? As a wildlife researcher, I’m now habitual to this smell.
Butterflies are nectarivorous which means they get their nutrients by sipping nectar from flowers. But the nectar is a deficit to provide nutrients like salts. During summer or post-monsoon time of the year, you can easily spot a damp patch full of butterflies, gather to drink water and absorb salts from the mud and dung is called mud-puddling. This action has been seen in most butterflies and a few other insects. Only male butterflies do mud puddles which plays several roles in their ecology. Males seem to be more benefited from sodium and amino acids uptake as it is later transferred to the female during mating which strengthens the chances of eggs survival rate.
As larger numbers start congregating atop on muddy soil, most of the insect-eating birds start coming for a quick meal.
Chew me at your own risk!
The shimmering bright orange on the wings of Plain Tiger Butterfly (Danaus Chrysippus) is a warning to stay away. The caterpillars of these butterflies feed on the milkweed plant. This plant contains cardenolide toxin which makes the butterfly inedible and stands out fearless among its predators. The caterpillar stores this toxin in their body at a specific part. If the predator attempts to eat the caterpillar they get poison, discouraging them. This defence mechanism is known as aposematism. When the caterpillar is transformed into an adult butterfly, these toxins remain, still able to warn enemies. In our nature trail, we were fully fascinated spotting two dazzling caterpillars of plain tiger butterflies munching on the milkweed plant. Next time you spot them, don’t touch a milkweed plant that causes etching to human skin.
The striking orange colour of the Common Silverline (Spindasis vulcanus) butterfly has caught your eye in a very first look. The butterfly has a “false head” present to the edge of the hindwing. If you notice the closed wing pattern merge towards the end resembles a head and threads like structure appear as antennae. I was always amazed to see this false head appeared like a true face mostly to fool the predator towards the tail which butterflies can live without.
Tips to make a fluttering friendly garden:
Attracting butterflies includes plants which meet the needs of all butterfly life stages. Insects need egg-laying sites, food for caterpillars, pupa hanging sites and adult nectar sources.
- Plant native host plants for butterflies in your garden. Check out Butterflies of India website for more on host plants.
- Keep nectar-rich plants in the area where the butterflies get more time under the sun.
- Do not use insecticides.
- Give them a damp patch for mud-puddling.
NINOX- Owl About Nature in partnership with CEC-BNHS and other 30 partners, celebrating Butterfly Month in September. We are cordially inviting everyone to participate in exciting Butterfly Month contests and other activities. Get in touch with us at [email protected] to stay updated.
Ashika Talreja is a Master’s student at the Amity Institute of Forestry and
Wildlife Sciences, Amity University. Works in ‘NINOX- Owl About Nature’- A
nature education firm in Delhi, India. She tries to get more people involve in
nature by nature walks, writing, sharing field stories and through exciting
nature games. She is always in search of birds and birdsong, local street food
and a cup of coffee.