Butterflies and the preservation of ecosystems

“Pollard Walk” protocol used to survey a variety of butterfly species
Butterfly survey volunteers with members of the Arannya Environment Research Organisation.
Butterfly survey volunteers with members of the Arannya Environment Research Organisation.Pic courtesy: Dhiraj Harmalkar

A trip to the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary with the Arannya Environment Research Organisation (AERO), an NGO which works towards saving the environment and wildlife of Goa, led to an understanding of how vital butterflies are to the subsistence of an ecosystem.

AERO organised a two-day butterfly survey trail, using scientific methodology to identify, observe and record diverse species of butterflies in the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary.

The survey trail, which took place on the 24th and 25th of September, was conducted in collaboration with the Forest Department of Goa. A team of around 30 volunteers recorded 77 species of vibrant butterflies during this event. On the first day itself, 17 different species of butterflies were observed on the deer park trail.

The exquisitely beautiful Malabar Banded Peacock.
The exquisitely beautiful Malabar Banded Peacock.Pic courtesy: Dr Pranoy Baidya

Dr Pranoy Baidya, a member of AERO, provided a wealth of information. While explaining the metamorphosis of a butterfly from an egg to an adult, he informed that the butterfly is a common pollinator species which spreads pollen to encourage the growth of vegetation. Butterflies are second only to honey bees as pollinators and, therefore, extremely important to the ecosystem.

Butterflies, like trees and birds, are an indicator species. They provide an evaluation of the environment that they populate by helping us to know whether the habitat is intact or if there is enough fruiting and so on.

For example, the Malabar Tree Nymph, which is Goa’s state butterfly, survives on its host plant Aganosma cymosa, a tree that is usually found near water bodies. The Malabar tree nymph will not be found if the Aganosma cymosa is missing, which in turn acts as a measure of the health of an ecosystem.

Butterfly survey volunteers with members of the Arannya Environment Research Organisation.
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Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the Chestnut Bob butterfly of the common skipper species, with a rusty colour and a short series of white spots. They are commonly found in gardens and parks and fly close to the ground.

There is also the Common Imperial butterfly, which is found in countries like Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia. With a purplish dark brown colour, the Imperial's tail is its unique feature.

Goa’s unique bio-geography will render the data collected on this trail highly valuable. It will be used to prepare a roadmap to conserve various species of Goa’s wildlife. AERO will undertake similar survey trails at Bondla during all three seasons to further study butterflies.

This is the first time the organisation has conducted a butterfly survey as a group, as opposed to people that have carried out their own exploration and listed butterflies individually.

The Common Imperial butterfly with its long filamentous tail.
The Common Imperial butterfly with its long filamentous tail. Pic courtesy: Dr Pranoy Baidya

Bondla was selected for conducting this survey, considering the ease of movement, support from the Forest Department and the availability of accommodation. Collaborating colleges and research scholars were involved in observing and noting down the different types of butterfly species.

This survey was undertaken according to the “Pollard Walk” protocol wherein one needs to take up a particular track, spot the butterflies within 300 metres and place a tracker. In this 300-metre distance, the volunteers have to look for butterflies 5 metres to the left, right and above and note down the butterfly species. If possible, one should also click pictures of these butterflies to identify them. Again, after 300 metres, you start the next transit.

After studying the diversity of butterflies at Bondla, the same method will be used in other places in Goa.

Butterfly survey volunteers with members of the Arannya Environment Research Organisation.
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