Early in the morning, after the trilling of the White-throated Kingfisher has ended; the Parakeets – both the Rose-ringed and the Alexandrine- have ransacked the jungli badam tree; Ashy Drongos have had their flirtations among the jungli badam leaves, the time of the birds is over. Dragonflies, wasps, bees, flies, beetles and butterflies begin stirring from their nectar-filled slumber and sizzle through the mid-morning heat to descend upon the jungli badam tree. Some come here to sun themselves; others come to drink from its fountain of nectar, and still others to chew upon its leaves and lay eggs that will hatch into small caterpillars, pupate in a few days and metamorphose into dazzling butterflies.
Butterflies belong to the order of Lepidoptera which includes moths and skippers. They evolved from the moths – those nocturnal creatures, small, hairy and brown – emerging into the daylight as bright, colourful butterflies, some fifty-six million years ago in the period of the Paleocene. As creatures of the night they were protected and safe, but with daylight they were exposed to various predators. Thus, they had to devise clever subterfuges of camouflage, mimicry, migration and aposematism (a device to relay to the predator that it is unworthy to eat them, because they are spiny or hairy or toxic and venomous – basically telling them, “I don’t taste that good!”) to survive. Let us not tarry so much, such that our colourful, clever winged friends disappear into the sunny afternoons, for they, my friend, are the transient travellers on the wings of time.
Life meanders on in the canopy of trees. Time settles on the inflorescence like the afternoon sun. Hush! the butterflies are busy creating essential life on earth. Look! there they are, pollinating the badam flowers which in a few weeks will bear juicy fruits to feed hundreds of visitors in its kitchens. Hurry! come with me to meet these little creators of a mighty universe.
The Commander (Moduza Procris) is a medium sized butterfly from the Nymphalidae family. There are six butterfly families: swallowtails (Papilionidae), brush-foots (Nymphalidae), whites and sulphurs (Pieridae), gossamer-wings (Lycaenidae), metalmarks (Riodinidae) are the true butterflies while skippers (Hesperidae) are treated separately.
The Nymphalids form the largest family of butterflies and are more commonly known as the brush-foots. Butterflies from this family have a reduced pair of forelegs that are covered with long hair, much like brushes which they use for tasting their food (grand table manners, I say!) As you can observe the commander is bright reddish brown on the upper side with white spots at the center. The margins of the hind wings are crenulated. The underside has a bluish hew. Males and females have a similar appearance. The female lays only one egg on the underside of its host plant. The egg looks like a green strawberry. Be careful when you put one in your mouth!
The Danaid Eggfly (Hypolimnas misippus) is from the Nymphalidae family and belongs to the subfamily of Danainae. Males as seen in the picture are blackish in colour with distinctive white spots that are fringed in blue at certain angles in the sunlight. The nderside is light chestnut in colour with a few white spots. Females mimic toxic butterflies such as the plain tiger and the monarch butterfly.
The Common Leopard/Spotted rustic (Phalanta phalantha) is a medium sized butterfly from the nymphalid family. It is tawny in colour and has black lines painted all over it. The underside is a bit paler and has much less defined lines. Males and females are similar.
This butterfly loves basking in the sun, spreading its wings on the jungli badam leaves and can sometimes be seen chasing away other butterflies.
The Oriental Grey Pansy (Junonia atlites) is a nymphalid butterfly. These butterflies are found only in south Asia. On the upper side, the wings are pale lavender brown or buff in colour, marked at the terminals with eye-spots of half black and half ochraceous yellow. The underside is a paler version and is very delicate and slender, almost obsolescent. They sit ever so delicately on the inflorescence; they are quick to fly away at the slightest danger.
The Oriental Lemon Emigrant (Catopsilia pomona) is from the family of Pieridae (these are mostly from tropical Africa and tropical Asia and are white, yellow or orange in colour, often with black spots.) They are medium sized butterflies with sulphur-yellow wings. One can observe the protruding veins on the wings. They are migratory butterflies, and yet many prefer to make the jungli badam tree their home where they seem to congregate every day.
The Oriental Red Flash (Rapala iarbus) is a small butterfly in the family of Lycaenidae or the gossamer-winged butterflies found in south and southeast Asia. If you observe it closely, you can see that it has hairy antenna-like tails with black and red ringed eyes on the hind wings to confuse predators about the true head. The upper side of the wings is red to orange with a dark border. Females on the other hand are dull coppery brown. The jungli badam tree is one of the many host trees of this butterfly. So, if you look closely perhaps you can see eggs laid on the underside of the leaves and munch marks on the leaves!
The Common Baron (Euthalia aconthea) is a medium sized butterfly from the family of Nymphalidae. Males are brown with slight traces of olive. The forewing has five white spots and it has black wavy bands on both forewing and hindwing. The antennae have an ochraceous tip. It has a stiff flight pattern of gliding and loves fruits; it is often found on fruits in the markets and on a half-chewed badam of the jungli badam tree.
The Common Crow (Eupolea core) is a member of the Nymphalidae family. They belong to the subfamily of Danainae which have members that are toxic to eat as they feed on latex from milkweed flowers. Also, it seems that this butterfly has a degree from the school of drama. Because, when it is attacked, it shams its own death and oozes noxious liquid. The taste of this butterfly is so foul that the predator refuses to eat anything brown henceforth!
The upper side of its wings is glossy-black with rows of white spots on the margins. It is brown on the underside. Because it is an inedible butterfly it flits around in leisurely fashion on the jungli badam tree, hangs upside down from its branches and feeds on the nectar rather lazily.
The Common Palmfly (Elymnias hypermnestra) is a species of the Nymphalidae family. Males are blackish brown all over and mimic the common crow butterfly while the females mimic the danaid butterflies. I bet their offspring have serious identity crisis!
Now, this is probably the handiwork of a caterpillar with jaws that can eat into the leathery leaf, leaving behind merely munch marks on the veins of time!
Photos: Nivedita Rao
Read more about butterflies and insects here: