Wild encounters at Pakke Kesang
In my last story about our visit to Pakke Kesang, I related how we were quite disappointed with the sightings of moths on the trip. Fortunately, the butterflies did not disappoint us. During our surveys we recorded over 160 species of butterfly, below par for a ten-day visit to northeast India. We pondered over the reasons for this. One bit of information given to us by the local Nyishis was that the monsoon had been delayed in Pakke-Kesang. We wondered whether this had delayed the emergence of butterflies.
Butterflies have short lives, varying from a few weeks to a few months (there are a few species that live up to a year). Many butterflies that could possibly live longer don’t manage to do so because they become prey for birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and sometimes even small mammals.
Butterfly species in India typically have a pre-monsoon and a post-monsoon brood. There are some species, that are single brooded — they lay eggs and complete
their life cycle only once a year, either pre- or post-monsoon.
Based on the delayed monsoon, and the number of caterpillars that we saw, we surmised that the emergence of butterflies was delayed this particular year.
Notwithstanding the delayed emergence, we still had some lovely sightings of butterflies and interesting insights into their behaviour.
An uncommon butterfly called the Silver-streaked acacia blue, which I had only seen once earlier, took a liking to the sweat-lined hat of Geetha Iyer, one of the friends accompanying me. The butterfly kept returning to her hat, allowing us to click some lovely photographs. The only issue was with Geetha — we kept telling her to keep still and not move while we clicked away.
But she could not photograph the butterfly as we revelled in its antics!
We conducted a children’s education programme at Pakke. During this programme, we showed the children a film on butterflies. One of the most interesting film clips was of a butterfly that wants to feed on minerals on a dry rock. In order to do so, the butterfly ejects water from its body onto the rock, and drinks the same water that it ejected in order to access the minerals on the rock.
A day after we saw this on film, we observed a butterfly called the Large Yeoman doing the same in front of us — a thrilling sight!
I often get asked, ‘Which was the nicest butterfly you saw on the trip?’ On this visit, my favourite butterfly was an amathusiid called the Red Caliph. Amathusiids are a group of large, pretty butterflies that mostly fly during dusk or dawn, or during cloudy weather and are uncommon. Imagine, to our surprise, when we spotted the uncommon Red Caliph feeding on the forest track in the sunlight. This gorgeous butterfly, as its name suggests, is a bright orange-red on the upperside, and impossible to overlook in the field. The caliph regaled us for 15
minutes, allowing us to take many photographs. For its beauty, and the lovely photographs it allowed us to take, the Red Caliph has got to be my pick for the nicest butterfly on our trip!
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