No group of insects is more charismatic than the butterflies. Their size ranges from the tiny jewels like Blues, to the gorgeous Birdwings with a wing-span as great as eight inches. Their glowing colours, and delicate flickering movements catch and charm the eye. No wonder then that they were eagerly collected and studied by early naturalists.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has been associated with the study of butterflies from the very first. Planters and other members of the BNHS, who were posted in remote areas, when leaving India on retirement, often gave their extensive collections to the Society, providing the foundation of today's large and representative collection. There are specimens in the BNHS Collection, and they are irreplaceable.
E.H. Aitken (EHA), the first Honorary Secretary, was a keen butterfly collector, who wrote several papers on them in the Journal. Between 1909 and 1927 a series of papers on 'Common Butterflies of the Plains of India' was published in the JBNHS, the first few by L.C.H. Young and then after he left India by T.R. Bell. Also in 1927 came the Society's first book on the subject, W.H. Evans' Identification of Indian Butterflies, which was revised in 1932 and is now a collector's item. Next came M.A. Wynter-Blyth's BUTIERFLIES OF THE INDIA REGION. Published by the Society in 1957, this was a more comprehensive book, covering many more species and with many plates, some of them coloured.
Wynter-Blyth's book naturally reflected the status of butterfly taxonomy at the time. In the sixty years since then there have been many advances in our knowledge about the biology of Indian butterflies, and changes in classification and nomenclature. All these are incorporated in Isaac Kehimkar's new THE BOOK OF INDIAN BUTIERFLIES. As in all good handbooks there are coloured illustrations for each butterfly described, showing both the upper and under surfaces of the wings. If males and females are different both are illustrated, and also dry and wet season forms where these differ. This will be a great help to beginners and amateurs using the keys, and hopefully will encourage more people to take an interest in these lovely creatures.
There is another very important way in which Isaac's book is different from the earlier publications - there are no instructions for collecting and preserving butterflies. India is no longer the "butterfly-collector's paradise" described by earlier writers. Instead almost all Indian butterflies are under threat, and some are critically endangered. Large areas, once forest or wasteland, full of the weeds that caterpillars eat, have now been cleared for agriculture. Besides this habitat loss the widespread use of insecticides has drastically reduced numbers. The clouds of butterflies that used to fly up as one walked through wild places can no longer be taken for granted. It is time to put away the butterfly-net, as the old-time shikaris put away their guns, and to take up the binoculars and the camera instead.
The butterfly lover has yet another resource: the butterfly garden. Isaac has included a section which explains how simply one can grow plants that will attract butterflies, helping them to survive and rewarding oneself with a visual feast.
Most of the photographs reproduced here were taken by Isaac himself. He has been observing butterflies in the field for many years, and the book ably combines the scholarly and the popular. It deserves to be widely read.
In the last book I wrote on butterflies with Thomas Gay, I incorporated chapters on photography, gardening and watching butterflies, as I wished readers to enjoy butterflies as fellow living beings, and not to collect them as postage stamps. The entire text of the book was written to suit beginners, and today it is really heartening to come across several who got started on butterflies with that book. Readers already in possession of my earlier book will surely find repetition of certain chapters, which I have deliberately added here with updates.
Today I see a great revival of interest in butterflies with more and more nature enthusiasts taking to watching and photographing butterflies. There are more university students .now studying butterflies, distance learning in basic entomology at the BNHS is quite popular, e-groups on butterflies exchange information and Images regularly, and information on regional butterfly fauna and taxonomy is easily accessible on exclusive websites, Moreover, with photography going digital, there is a spurt of good butterfly imagery on the net. It truly delights me to see the number of quality images taken by amateurs. With so much happening, writing this book was much easier than the first!
The increased interest in the subject made us all realize the absence of a popular comprehensive guide, which could help amateurs to enjoy and identify Indian butterflies. There has been constant demand for a good book on butterflies that covers the entire Indian region. Here is an attempt to provide such a book, more than 50 years after Wynter-Blyth's magnum opus, which still remains a classic reference on Indian butterflies.
Surprisingly, though butterflies are among the most known and loved insects and the faunal list of Indian butterflies has been thoroughly worked on, not much is known about the biology and ecology of the majority of butterfly species. I am sure with growing Interest in studying butterflies this gap in information will soon be filled.
For easy field identification, several species are depicted in live colour photographs taken by the author as well as by fellow butterfly enthusiasts. The plan is to have Images of Iive butterflies of all species in subsequent editions. The butterflies were photographed in their natural habitats, observing the ethics of nature photography. Those that were reared were released after photography. The photographs are not to scale; actual measurements are given in the text.
All preserved specimen used in the plates are from the BNHS collections, which are part of the country's National Heritage Collections. No butterflies were collected during the making of this book.
Keeping in mind the generalist, the text has been kept as simple and non-technical as possible. However, to describe the main characteristics precisely, some terminology was necessary, and technical terms used in the text are explained in a glossary. Books for further reading and those referred to in writing this book have been listed in the bibliography. Besides books and other publications, web sites referred to have also been listed.
Distribution or range of a species is not 'fine grained'; it is state-wise within India's political boundary, and broad in its neighbouring countries. Habits and Habitats only include the preferred habitat where the species is most likely to occur. Tips on butterfly watching, photography and gardening is sure to make your pursuit of butterflies more enjoyable. The list of references is for further reading for serious butterfly enthusiasts. The glossary can always be referred to understand scientific jargon.
The taxonomic nomenclature primarily follows Pitkin and Jenkins (2004). Braby, Michael F. (2005: Provisional checklist of genera of the Pieridae, Lepidoptera: (Papilionoidea). Zootaxa 832: 1-16.) was referred to for Whites and Yellows, while Niklas Wahlberg, W.H. Evans (1949) and Keith Cantlie (1963) were consulted for Brush-footed, Skippers and Blues respectively.
In general, M.A. Wynter-Blyth (1957) and W.H. Evans (1932) were followed to determine the 'Status' of a species.
During the making of this book there have been several changes in the classification of butterflies for some of the genera. While some changes could be incorporated, others will be incorporated in the next edition.
In Nymphalids, Vagrant's Vagrans egista is now Vagrans sinha. These changes will keep on happening, but the best part is that the butterfly remains the same!
I am sure you will enjoy reading, as much as I enjoyed writing this book. When your fascination to know more about butterflies grows, this chase will become endless.
From time immemorial, butterflies have always fascinated humankind. Among insects, they are certainly the most popular and best-known group, 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. Much information was generated during that period on their taxonomy, migration, variation, mimicry, speciation and evolutionary biology. Today several species of butterflies are used by conservation biologists as indicator species to identify habitats that are critical and need to be protected. Butterflies are also monitored to indicate climate change and environmental degradation. Thus, like other animals and birds, butterflies are now studied as living ecological components.
Butterflies and Moths
Among the insect groups, butterflies and moths come under a large group called Lepidoptera (which means scaly wing). Moths and butterflies differ from other insect groups in having two pairs of membranous wings covered with overlapping scales. Though very similar, moths and butterflies do differ from one another superficially. Earlier butterflies were placed in a separate suborder, but since several taxonomic similarities were found, higher moths and butterflies have been placed together in the Macrolepidoptera section.
Moths outnumber butterflies, there being 10 times more species of moths than of butterflies. Most butterflies fly during the day, as they prefer the warmth of the sun for basking and feeding, whereas a majority of moths fly after sunset. However, there are exceptions to this rule: the Evening Brown and Palmking are often seen around lights in the evening like moths, and the Painted Lady, Plum Judy and some Skippers are active at dusk. Similarly, there several species of day-flying moths like the Bee Hawkmoth, Blue Tiger Moth, forester moths, and Burnet moths. Moths being nocturnal rely on pheromones to locate mates at a distance, whereas butterflies locate their mates visually.
Butterfly antennae are always slender with the tip clubbed, or hooked as in Skipper butterflies. The antennae of moths are variable, ranging from feathery or hair-like, to even club-shaped in Burnet moths.
In many moths, the fore-and hindwings are looked together during flight. The underside of the forewing bears a hook-like structure called retinaculum, and into this fits a bristle-like structure called the frenulum situated at the base of the hindwing. Except for one Australian Skipper butterfly, such an arrangement is absent in butterflies as their wings are not locked. With time spent in the field differentiating butterflies from brightly coloured day-flying moths and separating the Skippers and Browns from the moths will become easy for any interested amateur.
Presently, butterflies are classified into two superfamilies, of which Hesperioidea has all the Skippers, while Papilionoidea includes the rest, the ‘true’ butterflies. Hesperioidea consists of a single family of Hesperiidae (Skippers), whereas Papilionoidea has four families: Papilionidea (Swallowtails), Pieridae (Whites and Yellows), Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies) and Lycaenidae (Blues). However, taxonomists are yet to resolve and agree on further classification of some groups into subfamilies and tribes. If is hoped that modern methods of molecular technology, like DNA sequencing and its application to systematic and taxonomic research, will help resolve questions of certain relationships in the classification of these groups.
There are about 18,000 species of butterflies in the world. India has 1,501 species, of which 321 are Skippers, 107 Swallowtails, 109 Whites and Yellows, 521 Brush-footed butterflies and 443 Blues.
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