Of all the species of insects, perhaps butterflies are the most fascinating creatures as they spread so much beauty and colour around us. They also lead interesting lives and share a special relationship with plants and flowers.
Each butterfly species uses a particular species of plants, some of the caterpillars of butterflies are carnivorous, not all butterflies feed on nectar and just like humans they are also experts in mimicry.
Naturalist and expert member of GSBB (Goa State Biodiversity Board) and author of the book, Butterflies of Goa, Parag Rangnekar, shared these fascinating details during a walk titled ‘Wings of Wonder: Butterfly Habitat’.
This walk was part of the Echoes of Earth’s Greener Side Campaign and was held at the Goa State Pollution Control Board campus in Saligao.
PLANTS THAT BUTTERFLIES LOVE
During the walk and through his presentation, Parag spoke about the role of plants and trees and the relationship that butterflies share with them.
There are two main categories of plants. The first is nectar plants which are generally flowering ones like blue snake weed (or Jamaica vervain), ixora, lantana (they are invasive in nature, thus need to be controlled), to name a few.
However, not all butterflies feed on nectar as there are species of nawab and baron butterflies which only feed on fermenting or rotten fruits.
The other category of plants is that of host plants. These plants are used to lay eggs, for caterpillars to grow and for the butterfly to emerge.
They are mainly native and wild species like jino (Leea indica) which is also used during the Tulsi Lagna festival (locally known as Vhadli Diwali). It is the most favourable plant.
The other wild ones are rui, panphuti plant, taikilo (Cassia tora), boram berries, tefla or Indian Prickly Ash tree, etc.
There are also common species like the mango tree. It is the host plant of the common baron butterfly. Other plants are banana, lime, ornamental palm and curry leaves plant (which is the host plant of the common Mormon butterfly).
We know that caterpillars are highly voracious and eat up most of the leaves of the host plants.
However, there are some caterpillars of the ape fly and red spot butterfly, which are carnivorous. They feed on mealy bugs and white flies, and thus, control population of these insects.
BUTTERFLY GARDEN ESSENTIALS
Parag then spoke about how to design a butterfly garden by planting mainly native trees and also flowering plants for nectar. He said that lawns are a big ‘no’ as they don’t attract any butterflies.
He also suggested growing wild plants to attract many butterflies, which means that one must avoid cutting such vegetation as it is seasonal, and thus, enables butterflies to complete their life cycles.
Parag mentioned that butterflies not only add beauty to the environment, but are also the main pollinators – thus playing an important role in our food safety.
He discussed threats to butterflies such as road widening, concretization, etc as this results in the destruction of native or wild plants where butterflies can lay eggs. They also die due to road kill.
Parag also gave interesting insights on state butterfly of Goa — Malabar Tree Nymph, which is a species found only in riparian forests (forests near river, streams).
And, it is endemic to the Western Ghats. And so, any threat to these forests will directly affect this species of butterfly.
To further this, he gave the example of how, when a forest patch, which had 25 species of butterflies, was converted into a garden that had 45 species of butterflies.
“The garden attracted generic species. But, in that whole process, specialised species of butterflies, which like specific forest species of plants, were lost.”
Speaking of Goa, he stated that there are 260 species of butterflies in the state. However, no study has been done to understand which species are under threat.
Arti Das is a freelance journalist based in Goa. She loves writing about art, culture and the ecology of Goa.