Butterfly effect

For a life that rarely goes beyond a couple of weeks, the amount of cloak and dagger moves was overwhelming.

Published: 13th January 2018 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th January 2018 03:36 PM   |  A+A-

Lepidopterist Peter Smetacek at the Butterfly Research Centre

For a life that rarely goes beyond a couple of weeks, the amount of cloak and dagger moves was overwhelming. I, for one, stood agape, eyes wide with incredulity and misted over with marvel. Lepidopterist extraordinaire Peter Smetacek held forth on the survival tactics of butterflies. Camouflage—trying to look like leaves and twigs—I had learnt in school. Embellishing his florid detailing—Peter was more of a storyteller than a dry professor—were the hundreds of specimens pinned to full-span glory inside glass cases lining the walls of the Butterfly Research Centre—a legacy, museum, and residence—at Bhimtal in Uttarakhand.

Chilasa clytia

Butterflies for me were at best a passing interest. But after spending a few hours with Peter, I emerged from the centre, situated in the vicinity of Bhimtal lake, certain that butterflies will henceforth be more than, as Wordsworth put it, ‘Historians of my infancy’.

“The mimicry is a form of survival where a harmless species—invariably tastier too—has evolved to mirror the warning traits of a harmful one aimed at warding off predators,” says Peter. There are many forms of mimicry of which the most intriguing is aposematic colouration.

“Just like humans, birds have different colour associations. While blue and green are considered safe, orange, red and yellow are signs of danger,” he says. To show us an example, Peter shone his LED torch on the photograph of swallowtail butterfly (Chilasa clytia) known as the ‘common mime’ found in abundance in the hilly regions during monsoon.

“This one mimics the common crow,” he says. Then there is ‘snake mimicry’, which is good enough to startle a human on a groggy morning. Very tenderly Peter took out a species of moth from a case and held it out for us to see. The crest of the forewing was lobed and bore markings resembling the mouth and eyes of a snake. Give it some flutter, forget birds, it was good enough to bring out the Bolt in most of us.

The Queen of Spain fritillary has what looks like diamonds attached to its wings while all it wants is to look like dew drops. And there is the Dusky Diadem, which could inspire a throne design. “They are a common sight in areas of Uttarakhand,” says the founder of the museum—having a collection of preserved moths and butterflies— who offers educational courses also.

Stay up to date on all the latest Magazine news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)

Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

facebook twitter whatsapp