I was standing on the roadside beside a trickling stream, when a flicker of orange caught my attention. The orange colour was stunning, much like the bright golden-orange of the sun. Then in front of my very eyes, a butterfly settled on the upper surface of a leaf, and slowly opened its wings. It was gorgeous! I was watching a butterfly called the Yamfly (Loxura atymnus) which had the most beautiful orange colour on the upperside, with a long, protruding tail. The yamfly sat with its wings completely open, basking in the sun. In order to absorb maximum sunlight while basking, butterflies will spread their wings open, so as to expose the entire surface area of their wings to the sunlight.
Do you know why butterflies need to bask? Mammals (including humans) and birds are warm-blooded, which means that they can regulate their own body temperature.
However, creatures such as insects and reptiles are coldblooded, hence they cannot regulate their own body temperature.
They need the sun’s warmth, to increase their body temperature to an optimum level.
The yamfly gets its name, because the caterpillars of this butterfly feed on one of the yam plants (Dioscorea pentaphylla). A curious fact about butterflies (and many other insects) is that the adults lay their eggs on only a few species of plants. These are called the butterfly’s larval food plants. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars of the butterfly can feed on only the l a r v a l food plants. If the eggs are laid on some other plant, the caterpillar will not be able to feed and will die, unless it can locate its larval food plant close by.
The butterflies do this so as to avoid competition with other butterflies. Different butterflies have have different larval food plants, thereby reducing the chance that all their caterpillars will feed on the same plant. This is nature’s way of ensuring the highest chance of survival for a particular species. However, in today’s world, this poses a risk, too. If a forest containing the food plant of a butterfly gets chopped down, then the butterfly will not be able to survive, especially if its food plant is destroyed.
Grim, isn’t it? After basking for a few minutes, the yamfly flicked its wings, circled around my head and flew off into the forest beyond, bidding me goodbye.
In south India, the yamfly can be seen in wooded areas and gardens, especially where its larval food plant grows. So keeps your eyes open for a flicker of orange, and it might just being the yamfly saying hello to you!