Pune, February 21, 2021: As per chaos theory, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings somewhere on earth can have long-time repercussions across the globe. Simply put, to have a sustainable self-sufficient ecosystem, all beings need to equally survive and flourish. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown gave the environment a chance to recuperate and rejuvenate from the ravages of wilful human action.
Introduction: From time immemorial, butterflies have always fascinated every being around them whether its plants, birds, animals, or humans. we have seen our cat chasing the butterfly for hours in our garden. Our daughter catching and releasing them. Plants eagerly waiting to be tickled by them and pollination happens. Birds especially the bee-eaters watch them intently perched on the branches to see if the flying butterfly has red colour on its wings, as red means danger in their world too.
Butterfly with red colour patterns is poisonous and now comes the magical part, the butterflies which are non-poisonous do mimicry. It’s not the monkey mimicry kind, the non-poisonous butterfly adorn red colour to stay safe. Among insects, they are certainly the most popular, and that is probably why they are among the most studied insects. There was a time when butterflies were collected by hobbyists like postage stamps. But now it’s prohibited to keep the dwindling population safe. Today several species of butterflies are used by conservation biologists as indicator species to identify habitats that are critical and need to be protected. Their presence is an indicator of purity.
World of Butterflies (Lepidoptera): The wonderful creations of God is admired by everyone. Earth is full of colourful butterflies on morning duty and moths for the night watch. The prime quality initially created was with prominent colours than today. With rapid deforestation and industrialization, hardly open space is left for their survival and existence. Pure air, host plants and food plants in the wilderness are some of the prerequisites for their survival. Some of the species have become extinct and more will follow in the near future, which is an irreversible process. The least we can do is, to offer a conducive environment for their survival. Let our coming generation see their existence and appreciate the world of vibrant colours. It is our conscience, which is still missing in the domain of initiative.
Their size ranges from the tiny drop to gorgeous bird wings with a wingspan as great as eight inches. Almost all Indian butterflies are under threat, and some are critically endangered. Large areas, once forest or wasteland, full of wild plants that caterpillars eat, have now been cleared for agriculture.
Besides their habitat loss, the widespread use of insecticide has drastically reduced numbers. But a butterfly lover and nature lover finds its way and so did we. COVID-19 gave us added opportunity to observe them and, we even encouraged and involved our neighbours to witness their life cycle and metamorphosis. The campus of MILIT, Pune was safe and so permission was granted to walk in the campus with COVID regulations. We used this opportunity and started looking for tiny eggs of butterflies on their host plants.
Rearing of Butterflies: Butterflies choose specific host plants to lay eggs on for their caterpillars to grow and the Military Institute of Technology (MILIT) has host plants for few species. We knew host plants for Mormons, Common crow, Lime Butterfly, Common Jay, Plain Tiger and Indian Jezabels which we saw flying around in the campus. They are Bloodflower, Ficus, Lemon, Curry leaves, Milk-weed, Ashok and Common Mistletoe. With this apt information, we decided to increase their population. I will tell you how. Caterpillars, when fully grown are a rich source of protein for birds and they eat them one by one leaving no caterpillar to become a pupa and later butterfly.
We keep the same host plants in our balcony pots and shift the five days old caterpillars on them to keep them safe from predators. The second way is to keep them in a jar with fresh host plants leaves and holes in the lid for aeration. Remember to keep feeding them only fresh leaves and do not stuff excess leaves which become dry later. Caterpillars prefer the fresh leaves of their respective host plants. And we kept food for the birds too for maintaining balance. The food chain should not be broken.
You will notice the caterpillars is fully grown and then, it will clear its system and make a silk pad to hang itself to the appropriate place with ground clearance followed by removal of the skin within 12 hours and you will see the outline of folded butterfly in the pupa. One day before emerging from pupa, you shall see the pupa becoming transparent and its colours predominantly visible. The next day dawn they will emerge as adult butterflies and will stay there for a few hours for system checks and warming their blood. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sunlight to warm themselves before starting their maiden flight and to do their daily activities. You must have seen them sunbathing with open wings. And they are very active during peak sun hours.
We have been continuously working towards adding numerous Butterflies to earth since 2010, but COVID-19 gave us a full-time job to increase their number in many folds. Since 2010 we have reared/nurtured more than 623 butterflies of different species and 03 moths and the journey continues in MILIT, Pune.
COVID-19 lockdown was a blessing in disguise for us. We reared 60 butterflies in a few months, making our total count to 683 today. Their complete metamorphosis is 15 days(approx) from egg to butterfly. There are few exceptions and miraculous butterflies like a lime butterfly, who can decide to stay in pupa until outside weather is conducive for it to fly. It’s a sight to see them take their maiden flight from our house in the open sky.
My husband and daughter often cry when they take off from our house and leave us. But numerous encounters happen with the butterflies while we walk around the campus. They brush their wings on my daughter’ face or sit on my husband’ hands to make them smile with joy. These encounters keep us outdoors and contribute. We have planted numerous host plants in the wild for the mother butterfly to lay eggs. I have witnessed how anxious a mother butterfly gets with a womb full of eggs when they are not able to find the host plants around. Some butterfly lifespan is only adequate for mating, laying eggs and attaining Samadhi ( they know when its time). The lifespan of butterflies varies between two weeks to six months. We all can be a little considerate and contribute.
Actions Required to Save them: Their existence is very important and it’s in danger. Their habitat needs to be protected as day by day the large areas, once forest or wasteland, full of wild plants that caterpillars eat and butterfly drink nectar from are now been cleared for agriculture, deliberate forest fire, stubble burning, rampant construction, besides their habitat loss the widespread use of insecticide/pesticide to increase yield has drastically reduced numbers and few are extinct from earth.
People can buy harmful chemical pesticides over the counter without a prescription and should be avoided. Dependence on organic farming should be encouraged. Although most caterpillars feed on leaves, there are strict preferences for specific host plants. These strict preferences are dictated by the chemical composition of the plant parts that the caterpillars eat. The adult butterflies have preferences for nectar with specific chemical composition. So every host and nectar plant is important for sustaining the 1300 species of butterflies of our country.
The same goes for moths which is three times in number than the butterflies. Concrete jungles, deforestation and rapid urbanization are taking a toll. We need to create a sustainable way of living as a tradition. Forest will be part of everyday living. The eco-system has to be well balanced. Exploring other planets for transporting elite humans is not the solution. We need to understand that we can stay here and fulfil our duties and responsibilities towards our surroundings. The area around the MILIT campus was inundated with butterflies of different species which we could not sight during our one year of stay. But COVID-19 played a vital role to restore the earth’s depleting resources. The earth could feel the breath of fresh air for a long time. The rivers, lakes, animals, birds, fishes, insects, plants, the air rejoiced and celebrated the lockdown meant for the humans. I witnessed the same exploitation after the lockdown was lifted. Let’s be sensible and leave clean water and enough plants on earth for coming generations. And definitely, the earth doesn’t need more humans. Let’s live consciously.
Our Future Generation: Our kindergarten syllabus should teach kids extensively about the ecosystem and how to maintain the balance. Responsibility shall follow organically. Creation of more space consisting of adequate wildflowers and host plants of butterflies in all the city gardens is possible. Nowadays every child is well versed with how to use the gadget(moble, android, Laptop etc), but nobody takes time to go outside the house and wander in the area around their house and observe. If we observe, then we will know what it needed. That is what we did. So can you. All you need is a will to do. Let us educate our children about the importance of plants and our natural resources which are required for sustainable living.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything gets accomplished.
(Shakti Bishnoi is a postgraduate from the London School of Business Management. She is an experienced ornithologist and counsellor. She has reared more than 683 butterflies in their house and their journey continues. She believes in the conservation of nature by planting trees.)