The last week has been really cold in north India. Despite this we in Dehradun have been fortunate to have bright, sunny weather on most days, making the day time quite pleasant, though the nights are cold. This spell of cold weather has had an impact on the cold-blooded creatures in our home garden. As a result, I have hardly seen any butterflies flitting about.
Last week though, a butterfly flew into the garden, and spent some time feeding on the yellow mustard flowers there. The butterfly, a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), always makes me recall a story that I love to tell. During a visit to Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in 2011, Dr Paul Waring, a British lepidopterist, accompanied me. Waring is one of Britain’s leading moth specialists and was visiting India at my invitation to assess whether India held any opportunities for butterfly and moth tourism. Paul was very much my kind of person and loved the outdoors. He enjoyed long walks in the forest and observing nature during those walks. His knowledge about insects was terrific, and I learnt a lot from him during his three-week visit.
The Painted Lady story happened during our stay at the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. On one of the days at the sanctuary, I asked Paul whether he was ready to trek from one campsite called Lama Camp to another called Sunderview Camp.
Along the way, I suggested that we could survey the butterflies along the forest track. The trek was 17 km, but over easy terrain. As luck would have it, it was cold and misty, and though we enjoyed the walk, there was very little butterfly activity during our five-hour trudge from Lama to Sunderview. At the end of the walk, Paul turned around to me and said, “Sanjay, do you recall the three butterfly species that we saw during our walk?” “Yes, Paul, we saw the Painted Lady, the Clouded Yellow and the Pea Blue”. “Exactly, Sanjay. You just made me walk 17 km to see butterflies that I can see in my home garden in England!” We had a good chuckle together about this experience.
The Painted Lady is an extremely common butterfly, found in most parts of the world. In India, it is found throughout the country, and being a nectar feeder, it is seen often in gardens feeding on flowers such as lantana and marigold.
Being a temperate species largely, it is used to flying in cold weather, thus explaining why I saw the species in my garden when little else was out and about. In south India you should see this species throughout the year, so keep your eyes peeled the next time you are visiting the outdoors. Feedback and queries are welcome at email@example.com