VIRUDHUNAGAR: It’s that time of the year when butterflies move en masse to the Western Ghats. “Millions of them, mostly female, migrate from the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats between March and April once the summer showers start. They mate with males there, lay eggs, and after the caterpillars become butterflies, return to the Western Ghats,” explains wildlife conservationist TS Raja.
Raja mentors an association that documents butterflies as they migrate. “We primarily study and photo document butterflies and dragonflies at the Srivilliputhur Megamalai Tiger Reserve. We have documented several rare species and even ones that haven’t been spotted in Tamil Nadu for decades,” says founder and president of Rhopalocera and Odonata Association of Rajapalayam (ROAR) Sharan (27).
ROAR comprises six butterfly enthusiasts, who came together in 2016 and have been instrumental in documenting rare species of butterflies and dragonflies. “The association was registered just a couple of years ago. Earlier, we used to upload photos on social media seeking experts’ help in identifying the species. There are 337 rare species of butterflies from South Gujarat to Kanniyakumari, and ROAR has spotted 241 of them in the last five years.
Of them, 17 are endemic and 34 come under the Wildlife Protection Act. Of the 144 species of odonates (dragonflies) identified in Tamil Nadu, we have spotted 58. Six of them are endemic,” Sharan adds.
The youth was introduced to the world of butterflies in May 2015, when he was gifted a book — Vannathupoochigalin Arimuga Kayedu — that had details about the 90 common species of butterflies in the State.
“That month, we went for a trek to Sasthakoil, where I spotted Evershed’s Ace, one of the rarest butterflies, which can only be found at higher altitudes of the south Pal Ghat. It was a life-changing moment. A picture of it has been featured in ‘Butterfly Man of India’ Isaac Kehimkar’s photo book,” he says.
Another member of the association, Ramaswamy SRK (51), discovered a butterfly species named after him — Nacaduba sinhala ramaswamii (Ramaswami’s six line blue) — in March this year. “The nearest cousin species is found in Sri Lanka. I spotted it in Tenkasi forest area,” he says.
Explaining the threats butterflies face, Ramaswamy says the colourful and delicate creatures are losing their habitats due to over-grazing and the use of pesticide and weedicide.
“But the biggest threat is climate change. Even a small temperature variation can disrupt a butterfly’s life cycle. In the last two years, I observed that population of butterflies migrating from the Eastern Ghats to the Western Ghats has reduced for reasons unknown to me. I speculate that heavy rains disturbed their migration pattern,” he adds.
To conserve butterflies, the Eastern Ghats must be preserved, as that’s where they stay and lay eggs, says TS Raja. “Activities such as quarrying impact the migration patterns of butterflies and birds. The Agriculture and Forest departments must keep a tab on the spraying of pesticides as they are extremely harmful to butterflies in search of nectar,” he adds.
Besides, more plants must be grown to attract butterflies, says Sharan, adding that 60 per cent should be nectar plants and 40 per cent should be host plants. “Each butterfly has its own host and nectar plants. To start a butterfly garden, we have to study which butterflies visit the area throughout the year and plant trees accordingly.”
Another member of ROAR, Pranav Abi (25), says the association has been conducting awareness programmes on butterflies and has been assisting the Forest Department in conducting seasonal surveys. With the Srivilliputhur Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary (GSWS) now becoming the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve, the team’s focus has zoomed out to the entire Megamalai-Srivilliputhur stretch of the forest.
A team of enthusiasts tracks migrating butterflies in the Western Ghats, spotting some of the rarest species and highlighting the importance of conserving the environment to protect the delicate creatures