The little wonder called the Tibetan brimstone

The Tibetan Brimstone is a lemon-yellow butterfly that is shaped superficially like a leaf, there are four species known from India, belong to a butterfly family called Pieridae or Whites and Yellows.

Published: 02nd October 2013 03:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2013 03:00 PM   |  A+A-

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of publishing a paper about a new butterfly discovery in India. During a trip to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh in April 2012, a friend, Purnendu Roy, and I found a butterfly that seemed different. We photographed the butterfly in the field, and then began our investigations on our return to our respective homes. The story of the butterfly is worth telling.

The butterfly we had found was the Tibetan Brimstone Gonepteryx amintha thibetana. We spotted three separate Tibetan Brimstones over two days at an altitude of approximately 2,000 m. The Tibetan Brimstone is a lemon-yellow butterfly that is shaped superficially like a leaf.  Brimstones, of which there are four species known from India, belong to a butterfly family called Pieridae or Whites and Yellows. They fly only in the Himalayan region, and are not seen in the plains.

An English naturalist, Sir Frank Ludlow, had first collected this butterfly from Tibet in 1938. In 1968, based on Ludlow’s butterfly collection, a Russian lepidopterist, Yuri Nekrutenko, described the butterfly to be a new butterfly subspecies.

My colleague, Purnendu Roy, had seen this butterfly in Anini, in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh in July 1987 but had not reported it. Our investigations revealed that our sightings of the butterfly from Anini and Eaglenest were the first records of this butterfly since Frank Ludlow collected it in 1938! Wow-we were thrilled.

As we dug a little deeper, it emerged that our sightings were the first ever records of this butterfly from India, and we had added a new butterfly species to India’s list of butterflies. This indeed was a significant discovery!

However, the location at which the butterfly was collected by Ludlow was thought to be in Tibet. Pachakshiri, where the butterfly was collected, is today known as Mechuka and is a region located on the upper tributaries of the Siyom River, West Siang District, Arunachal Pradesh, India. So the original location that the butterfly was found was actually in India and not Tibet!

All of these findings were published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal called the Journal of Threatened Taxa, and we were happy to be able to add a new butterfly

species to the list of Indian butterflies. We hope that discoveries such as these will encourage nature tourism in northeast India and the benefits flowing to the local communities will incentivize them to protect their forests.

Feedback and queries are welcome at sanjay.sondhi1@gmail.com

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